ACLU Lawsuit on Burlington “No Trespass” Ordinance Moving Forward, ACLU challenges policy that barred client from public park

March 21, 2019  

BURLINGTON—An ACLU of Vermont lawsuit challenging a Burlington “No Trespass” ordinance is moving forward. In July, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Chittenden County resident Jason Ploof, challenging the city’s policy of arresting individuals found in City Hall Park after being previously given trespass warning notices. Burlington sought to dismiss the lawsuit on procedural grounds. On March 15, Chittenden Superior Court Judge Helen Toor denied the City’s motion to dismiss.

In July 2015, Mr. Ploof was arrested and jailed for being “near the fountain” in City Hall Park after receiving two trespass warning notices earlier that month for allegedly possessing an open container in the park. After being arrested, Mr. Ploof was jailed overnight and did not return to the park for fear of additional arrests.

ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Jay Diaz: “Vermont’s city parks and town squares are central to our communities–traditional forums for discussion, debate, protest, commerce, entertainment, and enjoyment for all. The fundamental right to access public space cannot be denied without due process. Burlington’s unconstitutional ordinance is largely used to target impoverished residents for harassment and arrest. Whether in Burlington or any other Vermont municipality, everyone has a constitutional right to be in a public space.”

The City Hall Park Trespass Ordinance contains no due process protections or exceptions for First Amendment activity. Prior to filing the lawsuit, the ACLU asked the City to bring its ordinance and practices in line with constitutional standards. No such changes have been made.

This is the third ACLU lawsuit filed against the City of Burlington in just over three years relating to its unlawful treatment of vulnerable residents. In Montagno v. City of Burlington, the ACLU challenged the City’s role in evicting tenants who called for police assistance “too frequently.” The City settled that case in early 2018, paying compensation and agreeing to policy changes, adopted in June. In Croteau v. City of Burlington, the ACLU is currently challenging Burlington’s policy of confiscating and destroying the property of homeless residents without due process, and in violation of their rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Plaintiff Jason Ploof is represented by the ACLU of Vermont and cooperating counsel Dinse, P.C.

A copy of the Complaint is here.

A copy of the Court’s decision is here.