Federal lawsuit against city dismissed

  • Friday, July 4, 2014

A lawsuit against the City of Georgetown and several city officials claiming violation of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, in addition to other claims, was dismissed June 26.

James M. Tennant filed a lawsuit against the City of Georgetown, Police Chief Paul Gardner, City Clerk Ann Mercer, Assistant to City Administrator Cindy Howard, Councilman Brendon Barber and Mayor Jack Scoville on Oct. 4, 2013 in United States District Court.

It involved six causes on action – one violation of amendment rights, one allegation of policies that denied protection of those rights, and four pendant state law claims – all of which were dismissed on June 26 in an opinion written by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant.

As detailed in court documents, Tennant claimed at the Feb. 18, 2010 City Council meeting he was denied his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to address Council when he got into a verbal dispute with Councilman Barber. The mayor attempted to restore order to the meeting. The documents state “after a long pause” Tennant said he “no longer wished to address the council, and that he was leaving.”

Tennant alleged in May 2013 he went to City Hall to review documents he had requested through the Freedom of Information Act and under the direction of Howard was not permitted to view them in private.

On the same day, Tennant also confronted Mercer about the minutes she recorded of the Feb. 18 meeting, which did not include the details of the exchange between the three men.

On May 14, Howard notified Tennant via a letter that City employees were “put in fear of violence” based on his conduct the previous day and a law enforcement officer would need to be present on future instances when he was in City Hall.

Tennant said he spoke with Chief Gardner regarding the letter.

The suit claimed a violation of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights against the City, Barber and Scoville regarding the Feb. 18 meeting for “denying him his right to peaceably exercise his…freedom of speech, assembly and petition”; that he was denied the “equal protection of laws…by putting into place policies to deny” those rights against Scoville, Howard, Mercer and Gardner; a pendant state law claim for defamation against Howard and Mercer; a pendant state law claim for civil assault against Barber; a pendant state law claim for conspiracy to defame against Howard and Mercer; and a pendant state law claim for conspiracy to commit civil assault against Barber and Scoville.

In the first claim, the court ruled the City to be dismissed because no laws or policies were put in place to deny a member of the public the right to address Council. Scoville was also dismissed from the charge because there was evidence he attempted to restore order to the meeting and never asked Tennant to leave. Overall the claim was dismissed because no violation of the Tennant’s rights was proved.

The documents show Tennant “himself announced he was not going to proceed and left,” no one prevented him from speaking.

“No First Amendment violation is presented in this evidence,” the court documents state.

The court dismissed the second claim because Tennant did not provide evidence meeting all requirements to prove a conspiracy. Most notably, he must prove there was “no rational basis” for being treated differently than others.

The court found rational basis in testimony from City employees, as well as police documents, all of which Tennant himself did not deny.

Regarding the four state law claims, the court ruled to dismiss the charges without prejudice so Tennant may pursue them in state court, which is typical of state law claims addressed in federal courts.

The court recommendation was filed June 26.

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