Texas Chain Appeals Decision Allowing City to Bar Distribution

By: Joe Strupp

A Texas-based weekly newspaper chain is appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit against the city of Plano, Tex., over an ordinance that allows the city to bar delivery of “printed material” if it receives complaints.

The Dallas Morning News, which described the legal fight as “a quiet battle,” reported Monday that American Community Newspapers of Addison, Texas, had appealed the dismissal to a federal appeals court in New Orleans last week.

The newspaper chain, which distributes two community newspapers in Plano, initially sued the city over an ordinance that “allows the city to prohibit people from distributing printed materials if residents complain,” the News reported.

A federal district court judge dismissed the suit in February, but the company filed a notice of appeal on Thursday. “The challenge has fueled a fierce debate that has played out in court filings between attorneys for Plano and the company over solicitation rules adopted here and in many other communities,” the News reported.

“This has been one of the most consistent clashes in First Amendment law, especially today when information is so easy to come by,” David L. Hudson, an attorney for the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, told the paper.

“At issue is a city rule that prohibits people from going door to door and distributing printed literature to those who display ‘no soliciting’ or similar signs on their property. In addition, those who want to distribute commercial materials must first file permits with the city,” the News explained.

The ordinance reportedly limits door-to-door solicitation to daylight hours and gives residents an option to file complaints against such efforts. Police can seek fines of up to $500. In 2007, Plano issued 343 solicitation permits and wrote 21 tickets for violations, Officer Rick McDonald of the Plano Police Department told the News.

The city first crafted the ordinance in 2002 in an effort to reduce litter and crime.

American Community Newspapers first opposed the law in July 2006 after residents complained that the company broke the rules by distributing its two Plano newspapers, the News reported.

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