Free Speech on the Docket

DeRigo v. City of Cleveland (2002)

Case Dates:
Monday, 10 April, 2000 - Wednesday, 22 May, 2002
Facts:

Tony DeRigo, a tattoo artist and owner of a tattoo shop in Lorain County, wanted to expand his operation into Cleveland, but a 1976 ordinance banned tattooing in the city. The ordinance was passed to protect the health and safety of citizens by prohibiting tattooing in Cleveland except at trade shows and conventions.

In July 2000, the ACLU of Ohio, under the direction of volunteer attorney Dan Margolis, Legal Director Raymond Vasvari, and Staff Counsel Jillian Davis, sent a letter to the City of Cleveland arguing the ban was unconstitutional as a violation of the right to freedom of expression of both tattoo artists and people wanting to be tattooed. The attorneys noted that tattooing is an ancient art form and means of expression that is highly regulated to prevent health risks; therefore, a city-wide ban was unnecessary.

On February 13, 2001, after the city ignored multiple deadlines for action, the ACLU of Ohio filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to challenge the ordinance. The city introduced a bill to repeal the ban, but it stalled in City Council. The ACLU of Ohio filed a motion for summary judgment in April 2002. Despite contesting the motion, the City of Cleveland quickly repealed the ordinance on May 22, 2002, thus allowing tattooing to occur in Cleveland.