Free Speech on the Docket

Mancini et al. v. City of Cleveland et al.

This case falls into the legal category of:

Case Dates:
Tuesday, 28 February, 2017 - ongoing

The City of Cleveland Police have been aggressively ticketing and harassing poor and homeless individuals based on two anti-panhandling ordinances. Cleveland Ord. Section 605.031 makes it a misdemeanor to solicit “in an aggressive manner” within 10-20 feet of a wide range of locations, including: bus stops, people waiting in line, valet zones, telephone booths, and the entrance to buildings or parking lots. Section 471.06(b)-(d) criminalizes standing near roads and asking for money from passing traffic – but “bona fide charities” are exempt.

Plaintiff John Mancini is a disabled veteran who panhandles in downtown Cleveland by silently holding a cardboard sign that asks for donations. He does not approach or initiate conversation with anyone, and he makes sure that he does not block pedestrian traffic. Between December 2016 and January 2017, police ticketed Mr. Mancini four times under Cleveland’s “aggressive solicitation” ordinance. He has had to appear in court and pay fines and is now afraid to ask for help in many places. Our other plaintiff, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), a local homelessness advocacy organization, has many members and clients who are also targeted by these laws.

After we filed suit, the police continued to harass Mr. Mancini, including by referencing his lawsuit and his affiliation with the ACLU.

Legal Theory:

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court have established that panhandling is constitutionally protected expressive activity. Cleveland’s ordinances violate the First Amendment because they single out particular types of speech (those requesting immediate donations of money) for special restrictions.


On February 28, 2017, we filed our complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

On March 6, 2017, the Court held a telephonic status conference, during which it decided the case would be addressed at an expedited preliminary injunction hearing rather than treated as a TRO. The City’s opposition to our Motion is due on April 7. We indicated our intent to waive our reply time to expedite the process. Another status conference is set for April 10.

On March 12, 2017, after the Cleveland police followed and harassed Mr. Mancini for having filed his lawsuit, we filed a second emergency Motion for a TRO. The Court did not alter the briefing schedule.