« What I Teach in "Introduction to the Study of Law," With an Assist from Hugh Trevor-Roper | Main | SEALS faculty recruitment »

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Commercial Photography in Public Parks--Is Police Presence Required?

Is a municipal ordinance requiring all businesses, including commercial photographers, to get a permit to use a public park a prior restraint subject to strict scrutiny? No, said the Eighth Circuit in Josephine Havlak Photographer, Inc. v. Village of Twin Oaks, 2017 WL 3159678 (8th Cir. 2017). There, the court upheld the ordinance as a content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation subject only to intermediate scrutiny. In doing so, it applied the “narrowly tailored” prong of that constitutional standard very leniently, based on a Missouri municipality’s assessment that police presence should attend all commercial activity in public parks. This conclusion strikes me as dubious, and it also strikes me that the court's application of intermediate scrutiny looks a lot more like rational basis scrutiny than it ought. Here's a summary so you can judge for yourself.

The case involved a commercial photographer who brought facial and as applied challenges against a municipal ordinance requiring those wishing to engage in any commercial activity in a public park to seek a permit before doing so. The waiting period for a permit was two days for small-group events and fourteen days for larger-group events. The photographer asked for injunctive and declaratory relief, contending that the permit scheme created by the ordinance was a prior restraint subject to strict scrutiny. Both a federal district court and the Eighth Circuit court of appeals disagreed.

The Eighth Circuit first rejected the argument that a facial challenge was appropriate, because the challenger had failed to show how it would “significantly compromise recognized First Amendment protections of parties not before the [c]ourt.” The challenger’s arguments  centered only on “her own commercial photography” and failed to show how the ordinance would affect any other speech or speakers protected by the First Amendment. Presumably, her arguments would apply to all other commercial photographers wishing to use the park, but the court did not find this argument sufficient to create standing for a facial challenge. Therefore, the court instead addressed only whether the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to her.

The first step in this analysis was determining whether the ordinance was content-based or content-neutral. The court determined it was the latter based on its text and purpose. The text of the ordinance did “not reference any specific commercial enterprise or any specific message,” and it applied equally “to commercial photographers and to hot dog vendors.” Nor was there any evidence that the ordinance had a “content-based purpose,” since the ban on commercial activity had a long history and was for the purpose of reducing park congestion and maintaining visitor safety. Finally, even though the ordinance discriminated between commercial and non-commercial photographers, there was no evidence that commercial photographers were disfavored speakers; the court therefore concluded that any burden on the speech of the challenger as a commercial photographer was purely incidental to regulation of commercial activity within the park.

Because the ordinance was content-neutral, the court treated the permit scheme it created as a time, place, and manner restriction on speech; therefore, the proper standard for judging the ordinance’s constitutionality was whether it was “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest” and “[left] open ample alternatives for communication.” The photographer challenging the ordinance conceded that reducing park congestion and maintaining safety were significant governmental interests, but made four separate arguments that it was not narrowly tailored. First, the challenger contended that the ordinance was not narrowly tailored because the Village had not created a permit exception for commercial photography of small groups. The court held that the lack of a small-group exception did not invalidate the ordinance given the record evidence of “high demand, [a] history of congestion, and the limited facilities of the park.” The court also rejected the challenger's second argument that the ordinance should have focused only on known “congestion points” frequented by commercial photographers. This argument, according to the court, ignored that other commercial vendors might cause congestion at other points, making it rational for the Village to “globally promote maximum use of park resources and protect against damage to all park facilities.”

The third argument rejected by the court was that the ordinance’s “two-day application period (for events of fewer than ten people) and the 14-day period (for larger groups) [we]re not narrowly tailored because they serve[d] to chill artistic expression.” The court noted that commercial photography is typically planned in advance, giving photographers plenty of time to obtain the required permits, and the permit period were chosen to give the Village the time needed to process and, if necessary, review permit applications.  Finally, the court rejected the argument that the ordinance was not narrowly tailored because the $100 administrative fee charged by the Village was too high. According to the court, the Village hired police officer to watch over commercial activities in the park, and the court therefore found a “direct correlation” between the fee and the costs incurred by the Village. The court assumed, without further analysis, that the Village had made a rational decision to provide police to watch over hot dog vendors and commercial photographers and concluded that the $100 fee, which very well might be cost prohibitive for some commercial photographers, to be narrowly tailored to making the park secure. The court emphasized that because only intermediate scrutiny applied, narrow tailoring did not require that the Village choose the least restrictive means but instead required only that “the means chosen are not substantially broader than necessary to achieve the government's interest.” This standard was met.

 The court also found that the photographer had ample alternatives because “the natural attributes of the part exist[ed] in multiple locations across the Saint Louis area.” The photographer was not entitled to her “ideal venue” but merely to “ample alternative channels for communicating her message.” Apparently, any natural setting in the Saint Louis area would do.

Finally, the Court addressed the criteria imposed by the ordinance for issuing a permit (or license). Although the challenger argued that the ordinance’s vague criteria gave the Village unbridled discretion to deny permits, the Court held that the scheme imposed “objective factors” and “articulated standards,” such as “the nature of the activity, potential conflicts with other scheduled events, the number of participants, and other factors relevant to resource allocation.” None of the criteria for issuing a permit were content-based, and the ordinance’s plain language essentially guaranteed approval for small-group events and conditioned approval for larger events only on content-neutral factors related to “park use and safety.” Therefore, the Court held that the ordinance met “constitutional scrutiny as-applied [stet]” to the commercial photographer.

 

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 6, 2017 at 03:31 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky | Permalink

Comments

"assessment that police presence should attend all commercial activity" -- this phrase is frightening.

Posted by: Phil | Aug 6, 2017 7:05:07 PM

My initial reaction was that this seems like a weird fit for time/place/manner doctrine because it's not only content-neutral, but neutral as between speech and other types of commercial activity. It strikes me that there are a lot of laws that restrict a broad swathe of activity, a subset of which is speech, that we wouldn't immediately think of as time/place/manner restrictions. So if this park closed at 8 p.m. and entry afterwards were a trespass, or if a town had a juvenile curfew law, or a law requiring bars to close at a certain hour, such laws would prevent people, after the designated hour, from going to a park or a bar and then speaking, or prevent juveniles from going outside and then speaking, but does that mean any given closing time or curfew has to be narrowly tailored to a significant governmental interest, with the result that courts will move the hour back if a later time adequately accommodate whatever interests in closing the park or instituting a curfew the city has? It looks like there are cases analyzing closing times in this way, but I guess I think that in practice that will only mean they distort the doctrine as I can't believe that courts will seriously scrutinize the selection of any particular closing time.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Aug 7, 2017 12:01:26 PM

Post a comment