West Palm Beach, Fla. – Southern Legal Counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, the ACLU of Florida Palm Beach County Chapter, and Florida Justice Institute filed a federal lawsuit challenging a West Palm Beach ordinance that prohibits asking for donations in certain public spaces. The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, West Palm Beach Division, also seeks a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ordinance.
The lawsuit and injunction challenge an ordinance passed in December 2020 by the West Palm Beach City Council. The ordinance prohibits anyone from asking for money or other items of value in the downtown and Northwood areas. The ordinance is enforceable regardless if the request is “spoken, written, or printed word, or by other means of communication.” Under the direction of the City and the Downtown Development Authority, police and private security guards have threatened West Palm Beach residents Rosa Williams, Gary Frashaw, and Thomas Hyland with arrest if they continue to violate the ordinance.
Prior to filing the lawsuit, the ACLU of Florida submitted public records requests to obtain documents relevant to the ordinance. One of the documents the organization obtained was a legal memorandum from an assistant city attorney analyzing the unconstitutionality of the City’s anti-solicitation ordinance.
In the lawsuit and motion for a preliminary injunction, the advocacy groups challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance and demand an end to the enforcement of its provisions.
This lawsuit comes on the heels of other cases brought against Florida municipalities which have resulted in laws criminalizing requests for charity being struck down, enjoined from enforcement, or repealed in cities such as Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa, and Miami.
On December 14, 2021, Florida Justice Institute as well as other advocacy groups and the City of West Palm Beach jointly dismissed the federal lawsuit in response to a settlement agreement under which the City of West Palm Beach paid damages and repealed its ordinance prohibiting people from asking for donations in certain public spaces.