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Settlement Nears on ACLU Lawsuit Over Harassment of URI Students by Narragansett Officials

Posted: September 07, 2012|Category: Due Process Category: Police Practices Category: Students' Rights

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The Narragansett Town Council has tentatively agreed to resolve a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in April on behalf of three URI pharmacy graduate students who received tickets for parking their cars overnight on their street even though they had a permit to do so.

The three student plaintiffs – Caitlin Dowd, Grace Rignanese and Jenessa Redfern – had been renting a house on Narragansett Avenue with a nine-month lease. After obtaining an overnight parking permit from the Town, they started receiving notices on their car windshields that overnight parking was limited to “permanent residents,” defined as persons who had leases of twelve months or longer. However, the ordinance itself made no such distinction, nor did it limit permit holders to so-called “permanent” residents. After receiving tickets despite displaying their parking permit, the students contacted the ACLU.

The lawsuit, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney H. Jefferson Melish, had argued that the arbitrary and “extra-legal” enforcement of the ordinance against them violated the students’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law.  Before filing suit, the ACLU wrote a letter to the police chief asking for an explanation as to why students with valid parking permits would be ticketed, but never received a response. The ACLU charged at the time that it was the latest in a series of efforts to unnecessarily harass URI students living in the town.

Under the settlement agreement tentatively approved by the Town Council this week, the ordinance has been revised to ensure fair implementation of the parking permit program; and the Town has agreed to refund the plaintiffs the parking fines they were forced to remit, and to pay $5,165 to cover the ACLU’s attorneys’ fees and court costs.

ACLU volunteer attorney Melish said today: “I am very pleased that we have been able to favorably resolve the case and vindicate the rights of these URI students without the need for prolonged litigation.” At the time of the lawsuit’s filing, plaintiff Dowd had said: “We are hurt because we have done nothing to warrant this discrimination against us. My roommates and I love this town, we love living in Narragansett and care about this community, but it is really frustrating that the town refuses to acknowledge our rights or even consider us members of the community.”

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