LB Area Peace Network & ECO-Activist Diana Mann Sue LB City Hall In Fed'l Court, Charging LB Parade/Permit Ordinance Violates Civil Rights/Free Speech
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Fed'l Suit Follows City Hall Small Claims Collection Action; State Court Upheld City's Right To Recover Costs Re 2003 Demonstration
We post Fed'l Court complaint
(October 14, 2004) -- What began as a LB City Hall small claims collection action to recover city costs from local activists related to a peaceful 2003 demonstration against U.S. policies in Iraq, and resulted in a state court judgment of roughly $7,000 in City Hall's favor, has now escalated to federal court.
The Long Beach Area Peace Network (LBAPN) and LB ECO-activist Diana Mann have filed a federal court lawsuit alleging that Long Beach ordinances and related actions regarding parades (demonstrations) and permits violated their free speech rights, and continue to violate the rights of others.
LBReport.com posts the federal court complaint in pdf form on a link below.
In a written release, Ms. Mann, founder of ECO-Link, a coalition of LB environmental organizations, said:
The Long Beach Municipal Code is designed to allow city officials to pick and choose who and what organization will be charged fees, leaving citizens at extreme disadvantage. Residents of the City are put at significant risk of discrimination and personal liability for participating in the democratic process and exercising their rights to free speech. Free speech is a cost we all share in a democratic society, not something just for those able to pay for city services or those lucky enough to have the charges waived.
The release also quotes Eugene Ruyle, a retired CSULB professor and one of persons held personally liable for the costs of the March 22, 2003 anti-war event:
Other people who may want to organize rallies in the future will see what the City has put us through and maybe think twice about speaking up and organizing in their community. That's why we fight for this.
The complaint, filed by attorneys Carol Sobel & Rebecca Thornton of Santa Monica, seeks an injunction preventing enforcement of LB ordinances related to demonstrations and permits (Muni Code Chapter 5.60), a declaration that City Hall's actions violated plaintiffs’ free speech rights under the U.S. and CA Constitutions...and seeks compensatory damages, costs of suit and attorneys fees.
The complaint alleges in pertinent part [paragraphing added by us for web posting clarity]:
...This case involves a facial challenge to an unconstitutional permit scheme regulating core expression, including parades, marches and assemblies, in traditional public fora in the City. This is not the first time that the Long Beach ordinance has been challenged as unlawfully restricting First Amendment activities.
In 1993, the California Court of Appeal struck down an earlier version of the ordinance, holding the advance notice requirement and insurance requirements unconstitutional, among other provisions. Eight years later, in 2001, this Court invalidated the revised ordinance, again holding the advance notice requirement, the insurance requirement and the departmental charges provision unconstitutional.
In each instance, the courts concluded that the City’s ordinance presented classic constitutonal infirmities in the form of unbridled discretion vested in public officials, inviting content-based decisions as to the terms and conditions for core expression in the City. The version before the Court now is not significantly different in form or effect as it, too, contains numerous constitutionally fatal provisions explicitly regulating "expressive activity."
As a result, Long Beach still operates under a permit scheme for expressive activity in public fora that is both an unlawful prior restraint and an unreasonable time, place and manner regulation. Because the current version of the ordinance employs vague and overbroad terms that vest public officials with the unbridled discretion to apply the ordinance and invites content-based decisions on core expression, Chapter 5.60 of the Long Beach Municipal Code must, once again, be enjoined as an impermissible restriction on the exercise of First Amendment rights.
City Attorney Bob Shannon offered general comments for LBReport.com:
We're satisfied that the ordinance as presently framed is constitutional. The issue is currently being litigated in state court. The judge agreed with us at the trial court level and we're set for an appeal in state court toward the end of the year. The latest suit is really a third bite at the apple.
After noting that the legal issues will be litigated in court, City Attorney Shannon spoke generally about the purpose of LB's parade permit process:
It isn't to inhibit free speech or any other lawful activity. Its purpose is to alert city departments to the fact that a parade will occur and the size of that parade. Second, and related to the first, is to allow city departments to provide extra services required by the parade to ensure public safety, things like police traffic control, event sawhorses, things of this nature, and that's what they were charged for.
Finally, the purpose is to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of the extra city services...The bottom line is, who's going to pay for this: the taxpayers or the participants...and it's not unreasonable to expect the latter to bear the cost.
As reported in May 2004 by LBReport.com, City Hall sued five LB area activists in small claims action, seeking to recover from them costs of city services related to a March 2003 march and rally opposing U.S. military action in Iraq.
[Photo shows random marchers, not named defendants]
The state court collection action was filed by city staff, not the LB City Attorney's office (attorneys can't represent parties in small claims actions). A Superior Court judge heard the case and awarded LB City Hall a monetary judgment of roughly $7,000 against the defendant activists.
City Hall originally named Ms. Mann as one of the defendants but ultimately dismissed her...since (the complaint alleges) she wasn't present at a meeting where an agreement regarding the March 2003 event permit was signed and had not agreed to any costs for the event.
In the federal court suit, the complaint says Ms. Mann "has engaged in anti-war expressive activity before in Long Beach. She would like to engage in similar activities in the future, as she and LBAPN have done in the past, but she is concerned that she could face personal liability for excessive costs and indemnification under the Long Beach permit scheme."
To view the complaint in pdf form (attachments omitted), click here. The case number is
CV-04-08510 SJO (Judge Otero).
Contact us: mail@LBReport.com