Occupy Nashville, et al v. Haslam, et al

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(Case No. 3:11-cv-01037, U.S. District Court, Middle District, Nashville, Judge Trauger)

ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorneys: Tricia Herzfeld of Ozment Law; David Briley of Bone McAllester Norton; Patrick G. Frogge, of Bell Tennent & Frogge

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

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

In October 2011, Occupy Nashville protesters gathered at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to express their frustration with the government. 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 had been permitted to gather at the plaza without a permit.

Then the State of Tennessee met in secret and revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza to implement a curfew and require use and security fees and $1,000,000 in liability insurance prior to community members engaging in assembly activity.  The state arrested the Occupy Nashville demonstrators under the new rules.

ACLU-TN filed a lawsuit on behalf of the protesters.  The lawsuit alleged that the state illegally revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza, arresting protesters without probable cause and due process as a means to chill their free speech. The new rules were adopted improperly, by fiat in secret and without notice. They were overly broad and vague and essentially posed 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.

On October 31, 2011, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that stopped the State of Tennessee from enforcing the rules that violated the free speech rights of the Occupy Nashville protesters. In June 2013, the judge ruled that the state of Tennessee’s arrest of Occupy Nashville protesters was an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights. She also ordered the persons involved in the new law personally liable for damages.

The defendants promptly appealed and in October 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that two Tennessee officials were entitled to qualified immunity.  While the opinion indicates that the state officials cannot be held personally liable for damages, it does not alter the lower federal court ruling that the state violated the First Amendment rights of Occupy Nashville protesters.

Status: Closed

Related Documents

Press Releases

Sixth Circuit Offers Immunity in ACLU-TN’s Occupy Nashville Lawsuit (October 8, 2015)

Sixth Circuit to Hear Appeal in ACLU-TN’s Occupy Nashville Lawsuit Today (August 25, 2014)

ACLU-TN Victory in Protecting Free Speech of Occupy Nashville Protesters (June 13, 2013)

ACLU-TN Victory in Protecting Occupy Nashville’s Free Speech (October 31, 2011)

Legal Documents

Occupy Nashville v. Haslam – United States Court of Appeals Opinion (October 8, 2014)

Brief of Appellee-Plaintiffs (September 23, 2013)

Occupy Nashville v. Haslam – Order (June 12, 2013)

Occupy Nashville v. Haslam – Memo (June 12, 2013)

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (October 31, 2011)

Occupy Nashville v. Haslam – Complaint (October 31, 2011)