University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Messina v. City of Fort Lauderdale FA-FL-0010
Docket / Court 0:21-cv-60168-RKA ( S.D. Fla. )
State/Territory Florida
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Attorney Organization Florida Justice Institute
Case Summary
This is a case about a challenge to Sections 16-82 and 25-267 of the Fort Lauderdale
Code of Ordinances, which prohibited panhandling in a variety of public places. On January 25, 2021, two men, one living in a public shelter and one without a permanent home, filed this lawsuit in the United ... read more >
This is a case about a challenge to Sections 16-82 and 25-267 of the Fort Lauderdale
Code of Ordinances, which prohibited panhandling in a variety of public places. On January 25, 2021, two men, one living in a public shelter and one without a permanent home, filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiffs sued the City of Fort Lauderdale under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Represented by both the Florida Justice Institute and private counsel, the plaintiffs sought declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. They claimed that the City’s policies violated their First Amendment rights because the statutes chilled their speech.

According to the complaint, both plaintiffs had limited opportunities for full-time employment due to chronic health conditions and relied on donations from others to afford necessities. The plaintiffs claimed that they peacefully panhandled in public places with signs soliciting donations and that sections 16-82 and 25-267, adopted on May 1, 2012, unconstitutionally infringed on their ability to do so. Section 16-82 defined panhandling as “any solicitation made in person requesting an immediate donation of money or other thing of value for oneself or another person or entity,” and forbade panhandling in public places such as bus stops and parks. The statute also prohibited “aggressive panhandling,” which involved continued requests after a negative response or attempts to solicit through physical imposition. Section 25-267 specifically governed “right-of-way solicitors and canvassers,” to include people seeking donations. These provisions outlawed solicitation on “surface and space above and below any real property in which the City has an interest in law or equity.” Both sections imposed penalties of a fine not to exceed $500, imprisonment not to exceed 60 days, or both.

The plaintiffs argued that these regulations chilled protected speech, asserting that panhandling is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and that plaintiffs have been deterred from exercising their right because of repeated harassment and arrest threats by Fort Lauderdale Police Department officers. More generally, they alleged that the statutes were enforced primarily against people seeking donations in public places and this constituted an impermissible content-based restriction of speech because other similar forms of speech, such as asking for signatures on a petition or encouraging people to join a religious organization, were permitted. Thus, the plaintiffs argued the restriction was subject to strict scrutiny and that the ordinances were not narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest, nor were they the least restrictive means of advancing any government interest. Plaintiffs further asserted that, even if the restrictions were deemed content-neutral, they would still be unconstitutional because they constituted an unreasonable time, place, and manner restriction. In addition to suing for damages for mental and emotional distress as a result of continued harassment, the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief to prohibit enforcement of the statutes.

The City moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but the motion was denied. On June 23, 2021, Judge Roy K. Altman granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The court determined that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their First Amendment claims and that they satisfied the remaining criteria for a preliminary injunction. In particular, the court found that an injunction was in the public interest because the public has “no interest” in enforcing an unconstitutional law that is not tied to any compelling government interest.

After Judge Altman's ruling, the parties entered mediation. On October 20, 2021, the court granted a joint motion to extend the time to conclude mediation, with the parties agreeing to do so by December 6, 2021.

Jordan Schuler - 10/24/2021


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Poverty/homelessness
Sidewalks
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Plaintiff Description Two men of limited means whose chronic health conditions limited full-time employment opportunities and who relied on donations from panhandling.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Florida Justice Institute
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2021 - n/a
Filed 01/25/2021
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Messina v. City of Fort Lauderdale
Florida Justice Institute
Date: Jul. 2, 2021
By: Florida Justice Institute
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
S.D. Fla.
10/20/2021
0:21-cv-60168-RKA
FA-FL-0010-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
S.D. Fla.
01/25/2021
Verified Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Damages [ECF# 1]
FA-FL-0010-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Fla.
01/28/2021
Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Supporting Memorandum of Law [ECF# 5]
FA-FL-0010-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Fla.
06/23/2021
Order [ECF# 56] (2021 WL 2567709)
FA-FL-0010-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Altman, Roy Kalman (S.D. Fla.) show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-0003 | FA-FL-0010-9000
Hunt, Patrick M Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers McLawrence, F Jahra (Florida) show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-0001 | FA-FL-0010-0004 | FA-FL-0010-9000
Shlackman, Mara (Florida) show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-0001 | FA-FL-0010-0004 | FA-FL-0010-9000
Taseff, Raymond (Florida) show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-0001 | FA-FL-0010-0004 | FA-FL-0010-9000
Trevisani, Dante Pasquale (Florida) show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-0001 | FA-FL-0010-0004 | FA-FL-0010-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Burke, Michael Thomas (Florida) show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-9000
Gill, Hudson Carter (Florida) show/hide docs
FA-FL-0010-9000

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -