AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
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Business Permits and Regulations
An earlier version
of a city ordinance that restricted vending at a beach boardwalk but made
exceptions for the sale of merchandise with an "inextricably intertwined"
religious, political, philosophical, or ideological message was unconstitutionally
vague, but an amended version of the law, containing clear definitions
was not vague and did not violate the First Amendment. Hunt v. Los Angeles,
#09-55750, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 5721 (9th Cir.).
The owner of a billiard hall and the night club upstairs from it could not recover damages it suffered when it lost approximately half of its revenue when it excluded those under 21 from the billiard room based on confusion and uncertainty about whether a city ordinance required it to do so when it was also serving alcohol. Damages suffered from "cautiously" attempting to comply with an ordinance did not amount to a constitutional injury. Bankshot Billiards, Inc. v. City of Ocala, #10-11474, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 4762 (11th Cir.).
The owner of entities that operate four bars claimed that a township, a city, and several police officers were engaged in a course of conduct intended to unlawfully interfere with the businesses. The municipalities sought compliance with various zoning and other regulatory measures and ordinances, and obtained an injunction against nudity by dancers at one of the bars. In a federal civil rights lawsuit, the businesses claimed officers staged a "bomb scare" at one bar, conducted harassing searches, investigated various activities at the bars, including alleged tampering with the body of a customer who died on the premises, used confidential informants to determine whether one of the bars was being used as a house of prostitution, etc. The list of actions taken in connection with various investigations and searches of the businesses was long and complicated. The federal appeals court found that there was no evidence of an unlawful conspiracy to interfere with the civil rights of the businesses or their owner, or to perform acts intended to interfere with business relationships or contractual rights. The court concluded that the plaintiffs at best "have shown that various government entities worked together to investigate criminal activity, a perfectly legal and accepted practice." At worst, they "have shown that some of the individuals and police procedures involved may not have been perfect, but not illegal." Hamilton v. City of Romulus, #09-2196, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 23537 (Unpub. 6th Cir.).
The owners of a bar/restaurant claimed that the city and city employees filed false bribery charges against them and selectively enforced various regulatory laws against them for the purpose of harming their business. A denial of qualified immunity was upheld in part as to claims against an officer as the court found that, in the absence of any offering of money, there had been no bribery, and therefore no probable cause for the officer to make an arrest. The court granted qualified immunity, however, to city employee defendants whom the plaintiff failed to prove conspired with the arresting officer to maliciouslu prosecute the plaintiffs. Grider v. Auburn, #09-13261, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 18693 (11th Cir.).
The owner of a pub claimed that local police and prosecutors violated his right to equal protection of law by insisting that he "operate within the law," while allegedly tolerating unlawful activity at a bar across the street from his business that is owned by a former city police officer. The plaintiff conceded doing everything which resulted in sanctions against his business, such as occasionally serving minors and allowing illegal gambling on his premises, but asserted that he was "sure" that the bar across the street has "done worse" and been sanctioned less often. Rejecting the plaintiff's equal protection claim, a federal appeals court reasoned that it amounted to nothing less than an objection to the principle of prosecutorial discretion, which is constitutionally permissible. It is no defense, when someone concedes breaking the law, that others who have done the same have not been prosecuted. The plaintiff could not impose liability on the defendants for their failure to prosecute his business rival. Beales v. City of Plymouth, Wisconsin, #10-1400, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 18068 (Unpub. 7th Cir.).
A business owner's request to a city councilman for help with difficulties he was having operating his business constituted a "petition" for redress of grievances for purposes of the First Amendment, although it was oral rather than written. The business operated a fleet of motorized three-wheel rickshaws as a taxi service for visitors to the city's downtown area. The plaintiff presented evidence that, if true, would support a claim that he was subjected to unlawful retaliatory harassment for exercising their First Amendment rights. A police sergeant was not entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer would have known that her alleged actions of refusing to issue the business permits or allow its rickshaws to pick up passengers at a downtown premier event venue were unlawful, when she allegedly did them because of her displeasure in the business going over her head to seek help from the city councilman. Holzemer v. City of Memphis, # 09-5086, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 19226 (6th Cir.).
A book collector challenged a city's interpretation of its ordinance requiring that secondhand book dealers apply for and obtain a police permit. He argued that he only bought books for his enjoyment, as a hobby, and was not engaged in reselling them for profit. The court agreed, finding that the ordinance in question was aimed at those engaged in buying and selling books as a business, not at hobbyists like the plaintiff. Under the city's interpretation of its ordinance, any person who bought a secondhand book would have to obtain a police permit, which would be "absurd." The trial court's judgment on the pleadings for the city was reversed. Hopp v. City of Los Angeles, #B215265, 2010 Cal. App. Lexis 473 (2nd Dist.).
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