Monday, November 21, 2011

No First Amendment Right to Disrupt Senior Center

A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit on Monday rejected the free speech claim of a disruptive visitor to a local senior citizens centers.  The case, Milestone v. City of Monroe, grew out of Edith Milestone's ban from the center for violating its Code of Conduct.  Milestone lodged a Section 1983 claim against the City.  The court rejected Milestone's vicarious liability claims under Monell v. Department of Social Services, but it reached the merits on her claims premised on the Code itself--which the court ruled to be city policy for the purpose of municipal liability under Section 1983.

The relevant sections of the Code read as follows:

  • When in the Behring Senior Center of Monroe, all will be treated with respect and courtesy regardless of age, race or gender.
  • Use of abusive, vulgar, or demeaning language is prohibited.
  • Members of the Behring Senior Center staff, outside instructors and Green County personnel will be treated in a respectful manner.

Milestone engaged in a string of disruptive and verbally abusive tirades over time.  The Center staff eventually banned her.  She argued that the Code constituted unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, that it was overbroad, and that it was unconstitutionally vague.

The court rejected her claims. It ruled that the Code was a content-neutral, time-place-manner regulation narrowly tailored to achieve the significant governmental interest of protecting the patrons of the center from vulgar and abusive language and disrespectful or demeaning treatment; and that it left open ample opportunities for speech.  It also ruled that the Code was not overbroad (mostly because it was content- and viewpoint-neutral and because it satisfied strict scrutiny) and that it was not unconstitutionally vague.

SDS

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