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Edward Watters, Dean Gunderson, Steven v. C.L. (Butch) Otter

February 26, 2012

EDWARD WATTERS, DEAN GUNDERSON, STEVEN FARNWORTH, MATTHEW ALEXANDER NEWIRTH,
INDIVIDUALS, AND OCCUPY BOISE, AN IDAHO UNINCORPORATED NONPROFIT ASSOCIATION
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
C.L. (BUTCH) OTTER, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF IDAHO, TERESA LUNA, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION, AND COL. G. JERRY RUSSELL, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE DIRECTOR OF THE IDAHO STATE POLICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it Occupy Boise's motion for injunctive relief. The Court heard oral argument on the motion on February 24, 2012, and took the motion under advisement. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion, to the extent it seeks to enjoin the state from removing the symbolic tent city erected by Occupy Boise, but deny the motion, to the extent it seeks to enjoin the occupants from camping, sleeping or storing camping-related personal property at the site.

SUMMARY

Occupy Boise's motion for injunction comes before the Court -- as most injunction motions do -- on a rushed schedule with expedited briefing. Hasty decisions are rarely wise decisions, and the law recognizes that fact: Preliminary injunctions are issued on a showing of a "likelihood" of success; there is no final resolution of any issue. The preliminary injunction lasts only until the Court can hold an evidentiary hearing and have the benefit of the considered arguments of counsel. Accordingly, the Court's findings here are not final and are subject to change after an evidentiary hearing.

Occupy Boise's tent city is a political protest of income inequality. As such, it is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. The State has the authority to regulate expressive conduct and can require reasonable time and place restrictions that are content neutral. But once a State law, or the State's enforcement of that law, targets certain speech for restriction because of its content -- especially when the target is political speech in a public forum -- the law is presumptively unconstitutional. When the restriction is content-based, the State bears an "extraordinarily heavy burden" of showing that the law or its enforcement is the least restrictive means to further a compelling State interest.

Here, there is evidence that the State's enforcement of the recently passed Idaho law banning camping on state grounds targeted Occupy Boise's expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. The State's attorney in oral argument before this Court interpreted the law to permit a symbolic tent city that did not feature overnight sleeping. This interpretation clearly comports with the language of the statute, which only prohibits "sleeping" and "camping" on state grounds and does not purport to ban the maintenance of a symbolic tent city which could be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Yet Governor Otter's letter announcing his signing of the legislation appears to require the removal of all tents, and that appears to be how the State Police are interpreting the law. Such action is simply not authorized by the statute. Because the reach of the State's enforcement may exceed the grasp of the statute, this creates the appearance that the State is stretching to suppress the core political message of Occupy Boise -- its tents -- as presented in a public forum.

These circumstances render the State's enforcement policy of removing Occupy Boise's tents presumptively invalid under the First Amendment. It is unlikely that the State can show that its enforcement policy is the least restrictive means to further a compelling state interest. Unlike the circumstances in Clark v. Community for Creative Non- Violence,468 U.S. 288 (1984), where the Supreme Court approved a ban on overnight sleeping that allowed the maintenance of a symbolic tent city, the State's enforcement policy here would ban such a symbolic display. As such, it fails to use the least restrictive means.

Under Clark, however, the State's ban on overnight sleeping is proper, as is the ban on personal belongings related to camping, along with cooking and fire building materials. Accordingly, those aspects of the ban will not be enjoined by the Court.

For all of these reasons, the Court will issue a preliminary injunction enjoining the State from removing Occupy Boise's tents. Occupy Boise can staff the site around the clock, but the ban on overnight sleeping will not be enjoined. Moreover, the ban on personal belongings related to camping, cooking and fire building shall also not be enjoined. The Court directs the State to delay until March 2, 2012, the seizure of any personal belongings at the encampment to give all parties a chance to read, understand and comply with this decision. The injunction will remain in place until the Court can hold an evidentiary hearing.

LITIGATION BACKGROUND

As America slid into recession, income inequality rose. In protest, the Occupy Wall Street movement took over Zuccotti Park in New York's Wall Street financial district. That event spawned many local Occupy movements, including Occupy Boise.

In October of 2011, Occupy Boise formed "as an egalitarian non-violent, non-partisan movement in solidarity with Occupy Together and Occupy Wall Street with the mission of building community among the 99% to address the problems cause by the greed and corruption of the 1%." See Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 8) at ¶ 20. On November 5, 2011, they began erecting a tent city on the grounds of the old Ada County Courthouse, a location across the street from the Idaho Statehouse where the Idaho Legislature meets and Governor Otter has his office.

There are about 25 tents in the encampment, and many of the members sleep overnight there. The Amended Complaint alleges that the site contains private property worth about $10,000. Id. at ¶ 33. The tent city is in an area of high visibility, and its presence generated a considerable amount of discussion, both at the site and in the media.

On January 18, 2012, a member of the Idaho House, Scott Bedke, sponsored a bill that would prohibit "camping" on state land, including the site of the Occupy Boise tent city. It would also authorize the State to "remove any unauthorized personal property" and consider it as "litter . . . [to] be disposed of . . . ." See Idaho Code § 67-1613. The bill contained an emergency clause declaring that an "emergency exist[ed]" and providing that it would go into "full force and effect on and after its passage and approval." The Amended Complaint alleges that when asked about the bill, Representative Bedke told the Associated Press that "the right place for people to exercise free speech is on the Capitol steps," not via a "tent city.' See Amended Complaint at ¶ 35.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Otter on February 21, 2012. On the same day, Governor Otter sent a letter to the Speaker of the Idaho House informing him of the signing and stating that "I will be communicating with the leadership and attorney from 'Occupy Boise' to let them know that I have received and signed the bill, and provide that they have a deadline of 5 pm on ...


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