Martinez et al. v. Fresno (amicus brief)

FAC files proposed amicus brief in case challenging Fresno ordinance

UPDATE: On May 24, 2022, U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd granted the plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction blocking the city’s enforcement of the problematic portion of the ordinance, citing First Amendment concerns. Read the order.

Case: Martinez et al. v. City of Fresno, No. 22-cv-00307 (proposed brief of amici curiae)

Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (Fresno)

About the case: The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the California Homeless Union, represented by the Law Offices of Anthony D. Prince, brought a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging a new Fresno ordinance that allows the city to cordon off an undefined buffer zone around abatement activity, such as sweeps of encampments set up by unhoused people. The ordinance improperly allows city staff and contractors to prohibit speech, expression, association, and even movement in public areas. Anyone who enters these off-limits areas on public property “without express authorization” from the city can now be cited with a misdemeanor and fined, raising serious First Amendment concerns over the ability of the public and press to observe and document these controversial government actions. On March 30, 2022, the plaintiffs asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the law from being enforced.

Our position: The court should issue a preliminary injunction stopping the ordinance from going into effect because it will prevent the press and public from exercising fundamental First Amendment rights by permitting the government to arbitrarily block access to undefined “restricted areas.”

From the brief: “Given Fresno’s checkered history of abusing the rights of unhoused persons and unjustifiably destroying their property, it is especially important that this Court safeguard the right to document the city’s conduct. By allowing city employees or officials to cordon off an area of any size surrounding any abatement in their unbridled discretion, the Ordinance impermissibly authorizes public servants to screen their conduct from public scrutiny.”

FAC is joined in the amicus brief by Californians Aware, California News Publishers Association, Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, National Press Photographers Association and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

Date filed: April 12, 2022

More: Read FAC’s news release. A hearing on the ACLU’s preliminary injunction is set for May 17 before U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd. Read the ACLU’s complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction. Read more about the case on the ACLU Foundation of Northern California’s website.