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Thursday, April 16, 2009
Finally! Fan challenges speech restrictions at publicly owned ballpark

A lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York yesterday by a baseball fan named Bradford Campeau-Laurion, who alleges that he was kicked out of Yankee Stadium last summer by two uniformed NYPD officers for trying to go the men's room during the Seventh Inning Stretch and the playing of God Bless America. (H/T: One of my civ pro students). He thus violated a Yankee/Yankee Stadium policy, enacted explicitly because the Yankees and others purportedly found people stretching during the Stretch "disrespectful."

Named defendants include New York City, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, three Doe officers, and the Yankees. The complaint is loaded with allegations designed to establish that the Yankees are a state actor, primarily through the symbiotic relationship test and the exchange of benefits between the team and the city in ownership and usage of both the old Yankee Stadium and the new one. Campeau-Laurion alleges violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and their state constitutional equivalents, federal and state public-accommodations laws, and various state torts. Interestingly, the plaintiff is represented by the NYCLU and two students at NYU's Civil Rights Clinic (I might have done a clinic in law school if I could have gotten a case this interesting).

You all know that I have argued ad nauseum that such a claim should succeed and that restrictions or regulations of fan speech, including forced participation in rituals such as GBA, violate the First Amendment. So I buy everything the complaint is putting forward. The Yankees should be deemed a state actor, at least for purposes of operating a publicly owned ballpark over which they have near-exclusive use and control; in any event, here you have the NYPD (through an official program that provides uniformed officers for stadium security) directly involved in enforcing the policy, so state action is pretty obvious. As for the First Amendment argument, people in a public forum cannot be forced to participate in patriotic and symbolic rituals by having to remain in place during that ritual; they necessarily have the right to "symbolically counter-speak" against that ritual by getting up and walking out.

This could be fun to watch.


I think the problem with these types of cases is the difficult factual determination of whether the fan was dismissed because he wasn't acting patriotic or was it really because he had a few beers and got belligerent with a cop? I think the cards are stacked against the fan in trying to convince a judge or jury that it's not the latter.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 4/16/2009 7:06 AM  

And that's already the way the NYPD is pitching this--he was standing on his seat and loudly screaming, then got belligerent with the cop, all while reeking of alcohol. What is interesting here is that the plaintiff was at the game with a friend who is a season-ticket holder, who knows and talks with the other season-ticket holders around him, all of whom can testify that this is not what happened.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 4/16/2009 7:58 AM  

Where are those cellphone videocameras when you need them huh?

Blogger Jimmy H -- 4/20/2009 11:28 PM  

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