The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Right to Petition and Protest

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Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Court Cases

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Right to Petition and Protest

The American Civil Liberties Union is actively dedicated to the preservation of the right to petition the government and to voice opposition to government policies without interference. Below are some of the cases in which the ACLU of Rhode Island has been involved over the years:

2014: Kurland v. City of Providence

Category: Active Case  Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  


About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against the Providence Police Department for violating the "clearly established" free speech rights of two protesters at a fundraiser in Roger Williams Park for then-Gubernatorial candidate, and now Governor, Gina Raimondo. The suit alleges that the police department's actions amounted to a "willful" violation of the "constitutionally protected right of people to peaceably assemble and demonstrate in public parks," and seeks various court imposted remedies, including monetary damages. The suit notes that only six months earlier in another ACLU case, a federal judge condemned the Providence police department's practice of "clearing vast public spaces" of people engaged in free speech activity without legal cause.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in December 2014.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Richard A. Sinapi

Learn more about this case >

2012: Beacon Commications, Inc. and the Rhode Island Press Association v. Kilmartin

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

A lawsuit challenging a state law that has been interpreted to bar the media from running advertisements containing the names and photographs of public officials without their permission. The lawsuit argues that the statute “has an impermissible and unconstitutional chilling effect on free speech and on the free exchange of ideas” in violation of the First Amendment.

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2012: Thomas v. Flanders

Category: Due Process  Open Government  Right to Petition & Protest  

This lawsuit charged that the Central Falls Receiver, Robert Flanders, Jr., unlawfully delegated to an appointed hearing officer powers that are afforded only to him under the state law authorizing his appointment. The lawsuit also argued that the receiver’s actions were a violation of the open meetings law, the Financial Stability Act, and residents’ rights to due to process and to petition their government. The suit was voluntarily dismissed after the City came out of receivership. 

Cooperating Attorney: Jennifer Azevedo

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2010: Reilly v. City of Providence

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

This was a successful federal lawsuit charging Providence police with violating the free speech rights of a local resident who was threatened with arrest for leafleting on a public sidewalk.  The Rhode Island ACLU asked a federal court to rule that police engaged in a clear violation of the free speech rights of a local resident in 2010 when she was barred from peacefully leafleting on a public sidewalk in front of a building where then-Mayor David Cicilline was speaking.

Cooperating Attorney: Richard A. Sinapi

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2008: Jones v. Town of West Warwick

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Federal lawsuit successfully challenging both a town ordinance that significantly limits the posting of political signs, and the town’s discriminatory enforcement of the ordinance against the plaintiff. Cooperating Attorney: Richard A. Sinapi

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2008: State v. Rhodes and Freitas

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful defense representation of two members of an advocacy group arrested for disorderly conduct for using a bullhorn at a demonstration in front of the State House.

2007: Driver v. Town of Richmond

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  Rights of Candidates  

Federal lawsuit challenging a town’s actions in repeatedly removing a political candidate’s signs from private property. The court ruled unconstitutional the statute under which the actions were purportedly taken, and the defendants thereafter agreed to an award of damages and attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorney: Richard A. Sinapi

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2006: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) v. Town of East Greenwich

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Federal lawsuit challenging a town ordinance barring door-to-door solicitation after 7 PM and requiring licensing of all solicitors, including those for non-profit organizations. The court preliminarily upheld the restrictions. On appeal, the appellate court remanded the case for further hearings. The suit was thereafter voluntarily dismissed.

Cooperating Attorney: Carolyn A. Mannis

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2006: Bilodeau v. Daly-Labelle

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful representation of a resident sued for defamation by a political candidate for distributing a political flyer critical of the candidate.

2006: Women’s Studies Organization of RIC v. Rhode Island College

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  Students' Rights  Women's Rights  

Favorably settled lawsuit challenging a college’s censorship of a campus sign display sponsored by a student women’s rights group.

2004: Clavet v. Lincoln School Committee

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Federal lawsuit alleging that a school district failed to hire a applicant for two art teacher positions because of her public criticism over the years, as a parent, of some school district practices. After a bench trial, the court ruled for the defendants.

Cooperating Attorney: Jennifer Azevedo

2003: Carlow v. Mruk

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Federal lawsuit challenging a “gag order” issued by a Coventry fire district chief against two firefighters after they publicly expressed fire-department related concerns about school safety. The defendants agreed to rescind the challenged policies in 2004. Attorneys fees were awarded after a contempt motion was filed against defendants in 2005 for failing to abide by the agreement.

Cooperating Attorney: John W. Dineen

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2003: Alves v. Palazzo

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

“Friend of the court” brief filed in this SLAPP suit appeal in support of a person who was sued by a state Senator for making critical comments about him in letters to the editor of the local paper.

2002: Arcouette v. Tiverton School Committee

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Federal lawsuit challenging a school committee policy barring members of the public from making “charges” or “complaints” against school employees during the public comment portion of committee meetings. The defendants agreed not to enforce the ban pending further court proceedings. In 2004 the defendants revised the policy and paid attorneys fees.

Cooperating Attorney: Jennifer Azevedo

2001: Fishbach v. Zurier

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful lawsuit challenging a Providence School Board policy barring the public from mentioning the name of any person during the public comment portion of School Board meetings.

1998: Global Waste Recycling, Inc. v. Mallette

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful representation of a couple sued for defamation for statements made to the media expressing environmental concerns about a company’s recycling activities.

1996: Hometown Properties v. Fleming

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful defense representation of a SLAPP suit victim, who was sued for writing the Department of Environmental Management with concerns about a local landfill.

1995: Anderson v. Cumberland School Committee

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  Students' Rights  

Successful administrative appeal on behalf of high school students suspended for demonstrating in front of the school in opposition to a new dress code.

1994: State v. Katzberg et al.

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

Defense assistance of protesters arrested for trespassing after attempting to distribute literature during a celebration of a nuclear submarine launch; the charges were dismissed.

1990: Town of Barrington v. Lemoi

Category: Free Speech  Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful representation of a person fined $13,000 for displaying political signs in his house window, in violation of an ordinance barring such signs from residential property.

1987: Kellam v. Burnley

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful federal lawsuit on behalf of protesters barred from operating a sailboat with peace banners offshore of Electric Boat.

1986: Nestel v. Moran

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

Habeas corpus petition filed in state Supreme Court on behalf of courtroom spectators summarily sentenced to jail for turning their backs to a judge.

1976: Toward a Gayer Bicentennial Committee v. McQueeney

Category: Discrimination  LGBT Rights  Right to Petition & Protest  

Restraining order issued by federal court on behalf of a gay group originally denied a permit to hold a parade in Providence.

1976: Toward a Gayer Bicentennial Committee v. R.I. Bicentennial Commission

Category: Discrimination  LGBT Rights  Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful court suit on behalf of a group arbitrarily denied official endorsement of a gay pride parade as a bicentennial event.

1975: Reilly v. Noel

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

Successful challenge in federal court to attempt by Governor to prohibit protesters at the State House from peacefully singing.

1974: R.I. Workers Association v. Donnelly

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

A court order was issued against city officials to allow a symbolic soup and bread line demonstration outside of a fund-raising affair being attended by the President.

1973: American Friends Service Committee v. McQueeney

Category: Right to Petition & Protest  

Restraining order issued by federal court permitting a peace group to set up a “tiger cage” display on Providence downtown shopping mall.