The RI ACLU today filed a lawsuit against the Town of Narragansett in what the ACLU calls “the latest attempt by the town to unnecessarily harass and intimidate URI students living there.” The suit, filed in RI Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorney H. Jefferson Melish, is on behalf of three URI pharmacy graduate students who have received tickets for parking their cars overnight on their street even though they have a permit to do so.
The three student plaintiffs – Caitlin Dowd, Grace Rignanese and Jenessa Redfern – have been renting a house on Narragansett Avenue with a nine-month lease. Last August, the Town Council approved an ordinance limiting overnight parking on portions of that street to “permit holders.” A month later, the three students obtained permits allowing them to park overnight in accordance with the ordinance. In mid-October, however, 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. The ordinance itself makes no such distinction, and the students persuaded the police department to withdraw the first few tickets they received. In January, however, after they complained about new tickets, chief of police Dean Hoxsie advised the students that “the Ordinance had to be amended after the town solicitor provided an opinion that a ‘resident’ was someone that holds at least a 12 month lease or resides permanently in the town.” In fact, however, there is no documentation of any amendments made to the ordinance that limits permit holders to so-called “permanent” residents.
The lawsuit argues that the arbitrary and “extra-legal” enforcement of the ordinance against them violates the students’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law. Among other relief, the suit seeks a court order declaring illegal the town’s arbitrary implementation of the ordinance against the students while holding valid parking permits.
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 Town achieved some notoriety a few years ago when it adopted an ordinance, largely upheld by the courts and aimed at URI students, authorizing the placement of large orange stickers on houses declared to be a “nuisance.”
Plaintiff Dowd said today: “The new parking ordinance is upsetting to us because it is taking away a right, a right that everyone else on our street has. 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.”
ACLU volunteer attorney Melish said: “The twenty year battle between URI student renters and the Town of Narragansett continues. Three graduate students were issued overnight parking permits in September, but then in January the police department ignored the validity of their permits, issued tickets and refused to dismiss them. The overnight parking ordinance was never amended by the Town Council and the students were never given a hearing before their eligibility for parking permits was arbitrarily taken away. They are entitled to a vindication of their rights.”
RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown added: “Unfortunately, this is merely the latest attempt by the town to unnecessarily harass and intimidate URI students living there. Narragansett has the right to address legitimate problems caused by tenants who violate the law, but the Town’s constant attack on students merely for being students, as this case exemplifies, is petty and mean.”