Man Files Lawsuit After Oil City Requests Removal of Derogatory Anti-Trump Sign
OIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – A civil suit has been filed against the City of Oil City for allegedly violating a resident’s first amendment rights by requesting the removal of a political sign that contained derogatory language aimed at President Donald Trump.
(Editor’s Note: The above photo, provided in the complaint, has been edited for publication.)
The suit was filed against the City of Oil City on September 17 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging the city violated a citizen’s right to free speech by requesting the removal of the sign.
“It’s your right to speak your mind,” Michael R. Hadley, Esq., counsel for the plaintiff in the case, told exploreVenango.com.
“It’s not a (political) party thing. I don’t care what your point of view is, you have the right to speak your mind.”
According to Hadley, he is also asking anyone else who has been told by police to take down any political signs to come forward.
“We think there was at least one other person locally. We don’t know if there may be more.”
The complaint alleges that the plaintiff in the case, William E. Healy, who is a resident of Oil City, wished to use his properties at 102, 104, and 106 Cooper Avenue, which he refers to as “Freedom Corner,” to express political speech and informed the city of his intended actions in advance in an attempt to “avoid unnecessary litigation.”
According to the complaint, he never received a reply.
Healy then placed an 18-inch by 24-inch sign that said “F*** Trump 2020” on his property. The complaint notes it was placed beside another political sign and was a substantial distance from the public right of ways.
After receiving a phone call from the Oil City Chief of Police on September 14, Healy was distressed. He informed his counsel, Michael Hadley, of the phone call and provided him with the return number left by the chief.
Hadley then spoke to the Chief of Police who related that he had received complaints about the sign and considered the sign to be Disorderly Conduct, as defined under Pennsylvania law.
According to the complaint, an understanding was reached where the sign would be removed, no citations or charges would be brought, and the issue would be resolved through the legal process.
The complaint notes the Chief of Police also stated that another individual on Plummer Street had flown a flag that said “F*** Trump” or similar language and was also asked to remove it after complaints.
In terms of precedent, the complaint states the United States Supreme Court clearly held that the use of the word “f***” in political speech is not an obscenity in the 1971 case Cohen v. California, where the United States Supreme Court affirmed an Anti-Vietnam War citizen’s right to wear clothing which clearly stated: “F*** the draft,” according to the complaint.
The complaint also notes that a similar precedent was set in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the cases of Commonwealth v. Bryner, Commonwealth v. Kelly, and Commonwealth v. Hock, where it was determined that use of the word “f***” does not constitute obscene language but instead is protected speech under the First Amendment.
The suit alleges that based on the information, the city authorized its police officers to “act in an unconstitutional fashion” by improperly enforcing or threatening to enforce the statute pertaining to disorderly conduct against “people who merely use inappropriate language incorrectly categorized as obscene language, which is, nevertheless, constitutionally protected speech.”
The complaint indicates that as a direct and proximate result of the actions of the Defendant Oil City, the Plaintiff, William E. Healy, has suffered the following injuries and damages:
A. Violation of his rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as applied to the state through the Fourteenth Amendment, to be free from retaliation for engaging in constitutionally protected speech; and
B. Emotional trauma, humiliation, and distress.
The complaint states that Healy has now had his first amendment rights “chilled” by the threat of criminal prosecution, despite his right to engage in the political speech he expressed, on his own property, being protected by clearly established law.
The suit seeks a declaratory judgment declaring that Healy’s posting of the sign is a lawful, proper, and valid exercise of his first amendment rights, as well as an injunction prohibiting the city, its police department, agents, employees, or anyone else acting on the city’s request from commencing any civil, criminal, or administrative actions against him for exercising his rights. The suit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the city, including an order awarding Healy the costs incurred in the litigation, including attorneys’ fees, and any other relief the court deems just and proper.
The plaintiff is demanding a jury by trial on the following counts:
– Count One: Violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States.
– Count Two: Retaliation
– Count Three: Declaratory Judgement
– Count Four: Injunction
Hadley noted that he was somewhat surprised when he was informed that the matter was not addressed at the Oil City council meeting held on September 24.
“It’s troubling to me that the city was not informed of litigation against them,” he said.
Oil City Manager Mark Schroyer confirmed that the lawsuit was not discussed at the council meeting, but declined to make any further statement on the issue.
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