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Free Speech

Fair Treatment of Immigrants

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 Free Speech

Case Name: Occupy Nashville, et al v. Haslam, et al
(Case No. 3:11-cv-01037, U.S. District Court, Middle District, Nashville, Judge Trauger)

ACLU-TN Coop. Atty: David Briley and Patrick Frogge (Direct Representation)

Plaintiffs: Occupy Nashville, Paula Painter, Malina Shannon, Lauren Plummer, Adam Knight, William Howell and Darria Hudson

Defendants: Bill Haslam, William Gibbons and Steven Cates, et al.

The Occupy Nashville protesters have been gathered at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to express their frustration with the government since October 9, 2011. Between October 9 and October 27, 2011, the protesters spoke out, held up signs and generally communicated their frustration in a non-violent manner. Historically, other groups have been permitted to gather at the plaza without a permit.

On October 27, the State issued the new rules that dramatically restricted demonstrators’ ability to protest during business hours, eliminating their right to gather after 4:00 p.m. and implementing a 10:00 pm curfew on the Plaza. They also required protesters to pay use and security fees and to obtain $1,000,000 in liability insurance coverage prior to engaging in any assembly activity.

The lawsuit alleges that the State illegally revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza, arresting protesters without probable cause and due process over the last several nights as a means to chill their free speech. The new rules were adopted improperly, by fiat in secret and without notice. They are overly broad and vague and essentially pose a financial restriction on free speech, in violation of demonstrators’ First Amendment rights. They were also being applied unequally, as patrons of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center were still permitted to be in Legislative Plaza after 10 p.m.

The Temporary Restraining Order was issued on October 31, 2011 which halted enforcement of the rules. The Temporary Restraining Order was converted to a Preliminary Injunction on November 17, 2011. The case remains pending.


Case Name: The Contributor, et. al., v. City of Brentwood
(Case No. 3:11-cv-00624, U.S. District Court, Middle District, Nashville, Judge Campbell)

ACLU-TN Coop. Atty: Irwin Venick, Dobbins, Venick, Kuhn & Byassee, PLLC (Nashville) (Direct Representation)

Plaintiffs: The Contributor, Calvin Hart, Andrew Harrington

Defendants: City of Brentwood

The Contributor is a street newspaper in Nashville that prints a monthly newspaper dedicated to providing 1) a diversity of perspectives and info on the condition of homelessness while highlighting the contributions of homeless and formerly homeless individuals; 2) homeless and formerly homeless vendors with a source of income; and 3) to create community between vendors and customers. 

Seven vendors of The Contributor newspaper were cited for violating a local Brentwood Ordinance that prohibits the selling of merchandise in a variety of public spaces. They were selling the newspaper from the sidewalk.  The Ordinance (Section 58-1) says:

Except as permitted by other portions of this Code, no person shall use or occupy any portion of any public street, alley, sidewalk or right-of-way for the purpose of storing, selling or exhibiting and goods, wares, merchandise or materials.

ACLU-TN filed suit on June 29, 2011, to protect the free speech rights of The Contributor and its’ vendors.  On July 25, 2011 Brentwood amended its ordinance in an attempt to moot the ACLU case. ACLU-TN is arguing that the new ordinance, as well, is an unconstitutional restriction on the rights to free speech and press. This case is pending.


Case Name: Williams v. City of Sevierville
(Case No. 3:11-cv-00270, U.S. District Court, Eastern District, Knoxville, Judge Varlan)

ACLU-TN Coop. Atty: Tim Housholder, Gilreath and Associates (Knoxville) (Direct Representation)

Plaintiffs: Rose Williams

Defendants: City of Sevierville

In the fall of 2010, Ms. Williams decided to expand her fortune telling business to a storefront location in Sevierville, TN.  She entered into a lease for a retail store in the downtown area in September 2010, but has been unable to open her fortune telling business as the City has threatened zoning enforcement (fines and shuttering of the business) because of specific restrictions placed on fortune telling businesses.  Because she was not allowed to practice fortune telling at this location, she tried to make use of this space by selling retail items (crystals, books, etc.) however, the business was not sufficiently profitable and she was forced to close it in December 2010.  Since that time she has been paying a lease for a business she has been unable to operate.

Regulating fortune telling through zoning laws is the latest effort by many small towns in the south to prohibit fortune telling speech.  While not a total ban on this category of speech as ACLU-TN has tackled in the past (see Daly v. City of Dickson (2004); Wohfeil v. City of East Ridge (2010)), regulating this category of speech by zoning laws seems to be nothing more than a creative end run around the fact that fortune telling is protected First Amendment activity that cannot be prohibited despite the objections of many cities for moral and/or religious reasons.

On June 16, 2011, ACLU-TN filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville, to protect the free speech rights of fortune teller Rose Williams. This case is currently pending.


Fair Treatment of Immigrants

Case Name:Nunez Escobar, et. al., v. Gaines, et. al.,
(Case No. 3:11-cv-00994, U.S. District Court, Middle District, Nashville, Judge Campbell)

ACLU-TN Coop. Atty and Co-Counsel: Andre Segura, Lee Gelemt, Cecillia Wang (ACLU-IRP); Matthew J. Piers, Jose J. Behar,Jenna L. Miara of
Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, Ltd. (Chicago); and Elliott Ozment, Law Offices of Elliott Ozment (Nashville)

Plaintiffs: Angel Enrique Nunez Escobar, et. al.,

Defendants: Lee Gaines, et. al.,

On October 19, 2011, ACLU-TN filed suit on behalf of 15 individuals affected by a large scale coordinated law enforcement raid on a predominately Latino apartment complex in Nashville. The lawsuit alleges that the raid was the culmination of a conspiracy between ICE, MNPD, apartment complex owner Tritex Real Estate Advisers, and apartment complex management company Greystar to “clean house” and rid the Clairmont Apartments of Latino residents.  This discriminatory effort began with apartment managers’ intentional efforts to let the conditions of the apartments deteriorate into unlivable conditions.  Management routinely ignored tenants’ complaints about chronic maintenance problems, water leaks, lack of essential services, mold problems and widespread pest infestation.  Management instructed maintenance workers to treat apartments differently based on whether the residents were Latino.

The lawsuit alleges that in furtherance of this conspiracy and under the guise of searching for alleged gang members, numerous defendants jointly developed a detailed plan to rid the apartment complex of some of its Latino residents.  As was the plan, no arrest or search warrants were ever obtained for any resident or alleged gang members at the Clairmont on October 20, 2010. Instead, without judicial or administrative warrants, ICE, supported by MNPD, stopped, detained and arrested over twenty individuals based on their ethnicity, skin color, and physical appearance without cause or consent and in violation of their constitutional rights. This case is pending.


Open Records

Case Name: Richard Jones v. City of Memphis, et al.
(Case No 3:10-0793, U.S. District Court, Western District, Memphis, Judge Anderson)

ACLU-TN Coop. Atty: Eddie Schmidt, Nashville, TN, Law Offices of Eddie Schmidt (Direct Representation)

Defendants: City of Memphis; Bridgett Handy-Clay, Public Records Coordinator; Jill Madajczky, Senior Assistant City Attorney
ACLU-TN and Cooperating Attorney Edmund Schmidt were contacted by Mr. Jones, of National Action Network’s Cleveland Chapter, when his open records request to the City of Memphis government was denied because he was not a citizen of the State of Tennessee.  Mr. Jones knew to contact us from the press we did on our previous attempt to challenge this unconstitutional provision in Tennessee law when we were representing Massachusetts journalist, Joe Rosenbloom. We filed a complaint in Federal court on Mr. Jones’ behalf on August 24, 2010.

The issue presented here is whether the Tennessee Public Records Act, by providing access to public records to citizens of Tennessee but not to non-citizens of Tennessee, discriminates against non-citizens by violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, section 2, of the United States Constitution.

This is ACLU-TN’s second attempt to challenge the unconstitutional provisions of this law.  ACLU-TN has been monitoring this situation and has been made aware of at least seven different circumstances where the TN citizen only requirement of TN’s open records law is being used a method to stall, delay or deny people access to open records.  In our previous attempt to litigate this matter, the TN Attorney General ordered all records released to our client (mooting out our claims on the morning of anticipated filing) and modified their interpretation of TN law to allow the citizens only provision to be fulfilled in the out of state resident retained the services of a TN barred attorney.  This case is pending.


Religious Freedom

Case Name: ACLU-TN v. Sumner County Board of Education
(Case No. 3:11-cv-00408, U.S. District Court, Middle District, Nashville, Judge Sharpe)

ACLU-TN Coop. Atty: George Barrett and Scott Tift, Barrett Johnston, PLLC (Nashville) (Direct Representation)

Plaintiffs: ACLU-TN and four families of Sumner County students

Defendants: Sumner County Board of Education, Director of Schools, Benny Bills, Individual School Board Members and Principals.

ACLU-TN spent 18 months investigating what appeared to be a widespread entanglement of religion in the Sumner County schools.   Ultimately, after several months of unsuccessful negotiations, ACLU-TN filed suit on May 2, 2011, on behalf of nine students from four families.  The lawsuit alleges a pattern and practice of the promotion and endorsement of religious activity dating back as early as 2006. The allegations include teachers leading students in prayer and Bible study sessions; the opening of the schools to youth ministers who spoke of their church frequently at student lunch tables; the distribution of Bibles during instructional time; the display of a cross on a classroom wall; preferential treatment of religious organizations in their ability to  distribute materials to students; songs at school musical performances being predominantly religious; graduation and other school events being held at churches; and the opening of school board meetings with prayer. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is representing the defendants. After an intense discovery period, ACLU-TN and the Sumner County Board of Education entered into a Consent Decree on December 8, 2011 settling all substantive claims. The case remains active while we litigate the attorney fees issues.


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