Leave the Trees! Court Sides With Protesters in DPW Poster Removal Case
The D.C. Court of Appeals on Thursday sided with Brookland residents Don and Abigail Padou, whose 2008 lawsuit accused the Department of Public Works (DPW) of yanking their political posters off utility poles in violation of their First Amendment rights.
According to court records, the Padous were planning a rally that August in protest of the District's alleged failure to comply with its own "streetscape" plan, which had called for the burial of all above-ground ulility lines throughout their Northeast D.C. neighborhood, both for aesthetic reasons and to preserve trees. The Padous and other neighbors had formed an "ad hoc community group called 'Leave the Trees'," court papers show, and paid for nearly 400 posters to advertise the rally.
Two nights after the posters went up, a city employee started taking them down on the grounds that they did not comply with D.C. regulations.
The Padous later put up more "Leave the Trees" posters. Court records indicate some 200 people showed up for the rally.
That December, the Padous sued the District on First Amendment grounds but barely had time to prepare their case before the city moved for summary judgement. In 2009, the trial court ruled the Padous had "suffered no injury" as a result of the poster removal and therefore had no standing in the case.
On appeal, the Padous argued they weren't given enough time for proper discovery in order to make a compelling First Amendment case. The appellate court agreed: "Even for experienced plaintiffs' attorneys, the pace of the litigation here afforded little or no opportunity for discovery prior to a response to a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgement."
The panel of judges have remanded the case back to the trial court with "instructions to permit an opportunity to afford the parties an opportunity to conduct discovery."