Nonprofit files suit against city for solicitation ordinance
A local political action group is suing the city of Woodburn for its "unconstitutionally vague" door-to-door solicitation ordinance that went into effect in March 2017.
Accion Politica PCUNista, a nonprofit that advocates for increasing civic participation in the Latino community, filed the suit in U.S. District Court on March 23, stating that the ordinance violates the First and Fourteenth amendments as well as Article I, section 8 and 20, of the Oregon Constitution, which address freedom of speech as well as equality of privileges and immunities of citizens.
The ordinance in question states that non-business solicitors no longer need a license to go door to door in Woodburn. However, in an effort to provide protections for residents, anyone who approaches a residence where a "No Soliciting" sign is posted may be subject to a fine. Penalties are up to $100 for a first violation and up to $250 for a second violation.
That didn't sit well with APP, which states in the lawsuit that the "No Soliciting" signs put political canvassers in an awkward position.
"Since the ordinance was passed in March 2017, APP's staff members and volunteers, among others, have been subject to unconstitutional limitations on their abilities to communicate with residential property owners...," the lawsuit reads. "APP's canvassers find it difficult to know whether and under what circumstances their canvassing activities are proscribed."
The lawsuit states the ordinance is confusing, for example, when it comes to approaching a resident who has been contacted before but who has a sign posted. The lawsuit states that in canvassers' experience, often "No Soliciting" signs came with the property, or only apply to one dwelling on a multi-family property, creating more confusion.
"They ... are forced to avoid those properties and remain silent rather than engaging in their constitutionally protected speech activities," the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit says that the ordinance doesn't give "any guidance on how an occupant provides 'actual consent' or what circumstances might give rise to 'constructive consent.'"
APPclaims in the lawsuit that there is apprehension as another election season approaches.
"So long as the ordinance remains in effect, APP's ability to do so will be significantly impaired," the lawsuit states.
The nonprofit demands the court acknowledge the ordinance as unconstitutional and that the city, through the ordinance, has violated APP's rights. It also seeks injunctive relief enjoining Woodburn from enforcing the provisions of the ordinance, as well as "reasonable" attorney fees.
In a prepared statement, City Administrator Scott Derickson stated that the purpose of the ordinance is not to restrict citizens' freedoms.
"The Woodburn Solicitation Ordinance affirms the rights of private property owners to control access to residential property by posting a 'No Solicitation' sign," he said in the statement. "The purpose of this ordinance is to provide homeowners the ability to prevent unwanted solicitation on their property. We believe this is a public safety issue important to the well-being of our community. The ordinance, which was adopted on March 13, 2017, after an extensive public process, does not restrict the free speech rights of anyone in public places or on private property with the consent of the property owner or resident. We also believe this ordinance is constitutional and will vigorously defend it in court."