ACLU Reaches Settlement Agreement with Burlington in Lawsuit Over “No Trespass” Ordinance
City Agrees to Make Policy Changes to Uphold Constitutional Rights in Public Parks
July 16, 2019
BURLINGTON — ACLU of Vermont client Jason Ploof has settled his lawsuit challenging a Burlington “No Trespass” ordinance that barred individuals from visiting City Hall Park if they had committed prior offenses there. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Burlington agreed to policy changes that guarantee an individual’s right to exercise constitutionally protected activities on City properties. In addition, the City agreed to work with the ACLU of Vermont and other stakeholders to draft an ordinance governing no-trespass orders. The City will also pay Mr. Ploof and his counsel $13,500.
ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Jay Diaz: “This settlement recognizes that public parks belong to everyone. Every individual has a fundamental right to access public space – especially when engaged in constitutionally protected activities – and the settlement sends a clear message that Burlington and other localities cannot use blanket no-trespass ordinances to stifle people’s freedom of movement and expression without due process of law.”
In July of 2015, pursuant to Burlington policy, police issued a no-trespass order prohibiting Mr. Ploof from entering City Hall Park for 90 days for allegedly twice possessing an open container in the park. Burlington did not provide Mr. Ploof an opportunity to challenge the no-trespass order. The police subsequently arrested Mr. Ploof for being “near the fountain” in City Hall Park during the 90-day period.
In March, the Chittenden Superior Court denied the City’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on procedural grounds. The parties arrived at the settlement agreement in late June.
ACLU of Vermont client Jason Ploof: “As a born and raised Burlingtonian, I grew up using the City’s park as a central gathering place to engage with my community. Being banned for an entire summer meant the loss of a core part of my identity, and made me feel like an outcast in my hometown. Vermont’s city parks and town squares have always served as the heart of local activity, and I’m relieved I can continue to be a part of my community in this way.”
Cooperating Counsel, Justin Barnard of Dinse, P.C.: “The implications of this settlement agreement reach far beyond protecting the civil liberties of Mr. Ploof. Now, the City of Burlington will have to uphold every individual’s right to exercise constitutionally protected activities in its public spaces, and clarify the steps police must take if they seek to limit that right in any way.”
This is the third ACLU lawsuit filed against the City of Burlington in just over three years relating to its unlawful treatment of low-income 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 that 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 to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
Mr. Ploof was represented by the ACLU of Vermont with cooperating counsel Justin Barnard from Dinse, P.C.
A copy of the Court’s March decision is here.
A copy of the Settlement is here.