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Case Name ACORN v. City of Philadelphia PN-PA-0006
Docket / Court 2:03-cv-04312-JF ( E.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Policing
Case Summary
On July 24, 2003, represented by ACLU attorneys, the plaintiff ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an organization which seeks social improvements and conducts demonstrations) filed a verified complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of ... read more >
On July 24, 2003, represented by ACLU attorneys, the plaintiff ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an organization which seeks social improvements and conducts demonstrations) filed a verified complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, asserting, among other things, that the that the defendant City of Philadelphia and its police, in conjunction with the United States Secret Service, were violating a 1988 injunction by preventing plaintiff and its members from demonstrating near the scene of an appearance by the President of the United States, in opposition to the administration's tax policies, while permitting demonstrations supporting the then-current administration. Nearly fifteen years before, on November 25, 1988, in the same federal district court, organizations and persons earlier precluded from distributing leaflets at public gatherings on property of the National Park Service, allegedly because of the views being expressed in the leaflets, had obtained by consent a permanent injunction barring the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia police, and various local and federal officials, and persons acting in concert with them, "from denying to plaintiffs or any other person permission to lawfully distribute leaflets and other printed matter, or to wear, display or carry signs, placards, or insignia, by reason of the message contained therein and sought to be conveyed."

ACORN's initial complaint was filed at the very start of the July 2003, public event at which the President was appearing, and the plaintiff sought immediate judicial relief. The United States Attorney's Office accepted service of the complaint on the day it was filed. After a brief emergency conference and without opposition from defense counsel, District Judge John P. Fullam entered an unpublished order requiring the defendants "to permit plaintiffs to demonstrate peacefully" at (a designated location), "no farther away from the Treasury Financial Facility Building than other demonstrators."

On September 23, 2003, still represented by ACLU attorneys, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, adding as plaintiffs three other organizations (USAction, United for Peace and Justice, and the National Organization for Women), seeking wide-ranging relief. In essence, plaintiffs sought (1) a declaratory judgment to the effect that the Secret Service and police departments working in conjunction with the Secret Service must provide equal treatment to would-be demonstrators at public functions, regardless of whether the protesters support or oppose government policies; (2) preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to the same effect; and (3) an order requiring all of the defendants to comply with the 1988 injunction (consent decree). The amended complaint named as defendants the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the United States Secret Service. As the police were a non-suable entity, they were deleted as a defendant in October 2003. The remaining defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint, saying that the plaintiffs lacked standing since they presently faced no imminent injury in fact.

On May 6, 2004, Judge Fullam's unpublished opinion granted the motions to dismiss. In his view, the facts alleged by the plaintiffs in their amended complaint did not suffice to permit a finding that there was a clear likelihood that, at some identifiable future time and place, the defendants would violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights if the requested injunction was denied. In the judge's view, the plaintiffs' claims were too amorphous to be justiciable. Because allegations of mere potential violations by the Secret Service of its own regulations were unripe and lacked a specific factual context, the court felt it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant the relief requested.

We have no information indicating any post-dismissal activity in this case.

Mike Fagan - 06/25/2008

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) City of Philadelphia
Police Department of the City of Philadelphia
United States Secret Service of the Department of Homeland Security
Plaintiff Description Organizations that regularly engage in peaceful political protest activities around the country alleging that at these protests, the Secret Service violates the 1st Amendment right to express disagreement in a public forum with the policies of government
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 07/24/2003
Case Closing Year 2004
Case Ongoing No
Court Docket(s)
E.D. Pa.
PN-PA-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D. Pa.
Verified Complaint
PN-PA-0006-0002.pdf | Detail
E.D. Pa.
Amended Complaint [ECF# 10]
PN-PA-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
E.D. Pa.
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 28] (2004 WL 1012693 / 2004 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 8446)
PN-PA-0006-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
show all people docs
Judges Fullam, John Patrick (E.D. Pa.) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Hansen, Christopher A. (New York) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0001 | PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000
Presser, Stefan (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0001 | PN-PA-0006-0002 | PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000
Spitzer, Arthur (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0001 | PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000
Walczak, Witold J. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0001 | PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Garner, Joan K (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000
McCabe, Christopher I (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000
Millet, Thomas (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PN-PA-0006-0003 | PN-PA-0006-9000

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