Filed Date: Aug. 30, 2021
Closed Date: Dec. 15, 2021
Clearinghouse coding complete
On August 30, 2021, three residents of West Palm Beach, Florida, who did not have permanent housing, filed this lawsuit against the City of West Palm Beach (the "City" or the "defendant") in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiffs, represented by Southern Legal Counsel, the ACLU of Florida, and the Florida Justice Institute, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The plaintiffs challenged a 2020 City ordinance that regulated panhandling and soliciting, arguing that the ordinance was a content-based ordinance prohibiting speech soliciting charitable assistance in public fora. The ordinance prohibited soliciting "money or other things of value" or to "solicit the sale of goods or other services" from "any operator or passenger of a motor vehicle that is in traffic on a public street" or in "any public transportation vehicle, or bus station or stop," as well as "within 15 feet of any entrance or exit of any bank or check cashing business . . . or [ATM]." The solicitation could have been "spoken, written, or printed word, or by other means of communication." Further, the ordinance prohibited engaging in "an act of panhandling or soliciting" in the "public areas of downtown and the Northwood area."
The City, citing a blight on the aesthetics of these public areas, considered the ethical and legal ramifications of the ordinance before enacting it. Mayor Keith James pronounced that the ordinance “[did] not criminalize homelessness.” Additionally, an assistant city attorney produced a legal memorandum analyzing the unconstitutionality of the anti-solicitation ordinance.
The City enforced this ordinance in a total of 1503 events involving panhandling since 2019. Each plaintiff had previously been warned by police and/or private security employed by the City that the plaintiff would be arrested for either holding signs with messages conveying their need for assistance from vehicles on public roadways, or orally asking for help from pedestrians in the City.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief against future enforcement of the ordinance, declaratory relief, and damages for injury caused by past enforcement. The plaintiffs additionally filed a motion for preliminary injunction on August 30, 2021.
This lawsuit followed other cases brought against Florida municipalities for similar laws criminalizing requests for charity. Such laws had been struck down or repealed in cities such as Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa, and Miami. In fact, according to the National Homelessness Law Center, no challenge to a panhandling ban across the country had been lost as of December 2021.
On November 22, 2021, the plaintiffs and the City filed a joint status report with the court outlining the terms of a settlement agreement between the parties. The City agreed to repeal two City ordinances, regarding the panhandling ordinance and the enforcement of the ordinance, and pay a monetary amount of $83,600 pending City Commission approval.
One month later, on December 15, 2021, the court approved the joint stipulation for dismissal with prejudice filed by the parties the previous day which indicated that the parties had settled the case.
Richa Bijlani (1/26/2022)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/60322355/parties/williams-v-city-of-west-palm-beach/
Middlebrooks, Donald M. (Florida)
Azis, Jacqueline Nicole (Florida)
Chriss, Simone (Florida)
Green, James K. (Florida)
Howell, Samantha Gabriel (Florida)
Middlebrooks, Donald M. (Florida)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/60322355/williams-v-city-of-west-palm-beach/
Last updated July 9, 2023, 3:06 a.m.
State / Territory: Florida
Filing Date: Aug. 30, 2021
Closing Date: Dec. 15, 2021
Case Ongoing: No
Individuals who lacked permanent housing and who had each previously been warned by police and/or private security hired by the City that the individual would be arrested for either holding signs with messages conveying their need for assistance or orally asking for help from pedestrians
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Amount Defendant Pays: $83,600