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) is a regional homelessness advocacy organization that has many members and clients who are also targeted by these laws.
After we filed suit, the police continued to harass Mr. Mancini, including following him and questioning him about his lawsuit and his affiliation with the ACLU.
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 (TRO) 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 resolved via an expedited preliminary injunction hearing rather than a TRO. On March 12, 2017, after the Cleveland police followed and harassed Mr. Mancini for having filed this lawsuit, we filed a Second Emergency Motion for a TRO. The Court did not alter the briefing schedule in response to this motion.
On March 16, 2017, the City filed its brief in opposition to our Emergency Motion for a TRO, and on March 19 we filed our reply. On April 7, 2017, the Court denied our Motions for TROs. Later that day the City filed its answer to our complaint and its opposition to our initial Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. On April 10 the Court held a status conference during which we waived an opportunity to reply to the City’s opposition and declined oral arguments. The Court conducted another status conference on May 25, 2017, during which both parties set forth their positions and agreed to waive an evidentiary hearing. The Court determined that it would proceed to rule on the briefs.
On June 9, Cleveland City Council, acting on an emergency, expedited basis, without our knowledge, repealed Ord. 605.031, and extensively revised Ord. 471.06, curing the challenged defects. On June 20, 2017, the City filed a Motion to Dismiss our claims as moot because the challenged laws no longer existed. On June 23, we filed our response to the City’s Motion to Dismiss, in which we conceded to dismissal of our injunctive claims, and notified the Court that we would negotiate with opposing counsel to attempt to resolve our remaining damage claims. On August 31, 2017, we filed a status report informing the Court that we had come to an oral agreement with Defendants on the damages claims, and were in the process of finalizing that agreement in writing. On September 22, we filed another such status report.