Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
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March 14, 2017
Thursday, April 13, 2017
CLEVELAND, OHIO - A complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by Euclid Media Group, parent company of local alternative-weekly newspaper Cleveland Scene, alleges that the Downtown Cleveland Alliance violated Scene's constitutional rights when earlier this year it removed 26 Scene distribution boxes from downtown Cleveland's central business district without notifying Scene and without any legitimate justification.
The Complaint alleges that from about January 25 to February 10, 2017, DCA removed 26 of Plaintiff Euclid Media Group's duly licensed distribution boxes for the Scene paper from downtown Cleveland's central business district, amounting to 40% of Scene'sboxes in its densest circulation area. DCA retained possession of the Scene boxes for more than two weeks without notifying Scene, and only admitted to having taken them after a Scene representative contacted DCA on a tip from a witness who saw a DCA employee loading one of the boxes into a truck.
DCA has publicly offered shifting insufficient explanations for its removal of the boxes, first citing safety concerns, claiming that the boxes were knocked over into city streets despite that each box is weighed down with cement blocks and weighs approximately 150 pounds. Later, DCA cited a City Ordinance allegedly requiring that newspaper boxes be "bolted down," but no such ordinance exists. Finally, DCA settled on blaming a rogue employee who decided that the boxes should be removed based on information he received at a conference in Cincinnati. None of these explanations, the complaint alleges, justify DCA's removal of the boxes. And DCA has never explained why it did not notify Scene or Euclid Media Group of the removal until confronted by a Scene representative.
Cleveland Scene is one of the few (and increasingly dwindling) sources of quality investigative journalism in Northeast Ohio. DCA's removal of the Scene boxes came on the heels of critical Scene coverage of a controversial proposal for a nine-figure public subsidy to renovate Quicken Loans Arena. The complaint alleges that t wo outspoken and financially self-interested supporters of this subsidy―Len Komoroski (Vice President of the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Dan Walsh (Board Chair of Destination Cleveland)―serve on DCA's 18-member Board of Directors, the rest of whom are comprised chiefly of finance and real-estate executives.
"Regardless of DCA's motive for pulling Scene's journalism off the streets, the U.S. Constitution protects against any such infringement on speech unless there is a compelling reason for it, and no such reason exists here," said Peter Pattakos, one of the attorneys for Euclid Media Group and Scene. "The mere appearance that a governmental entity intended to silence a specific newspaper constitutes a threat to democracy that the First Amendment prohibits."
And, as alleged in the Complaint, DCA's actions were under color of law, undertaken in its role as an auxiliary wing of Cleveland's police and sanitation departments. A regular citizen would not think twice about seeing a uniformed DCA employee loading newspaper boxes in a truck, and would only assume that DCA was performing an authorized governmental function in doing so.
Euclid Media Group's claims against DCA include alleged violations of its rights to free speech and due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and a state-law claim for conversion.
Euclid Media Group is represented by Peter Pattakos, Subodh Chandra, and Don Screen of the Chandra Law Firm LLC in Cleveland, Ohio. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster, bearing Case No. 1:17-cv-00792.
For further information, contact Mr. Pattakos by phone at 216.578.1700 or by email at Peter.Pattakos@ChandraLaw.com
The complaint may be read here.