PORTLAND — The city on Friday filed court documents arguing it has a legal right to restrict the time, place and manner of OccupyMaine’s protests.
The documents are a response to a lawsuit filed by OccupyMaine on Dec. 19 in Cumberland County Superior Court. In the suit, the protesters claimed their round-the-clock occupation at Lincoln Park is necessary for the group to send its message and compel government to address “grave economic, political and social injustices.”
The protesters also challenged the constitutionality of city ordinances, including a “blanket prohibition on speech and assembly in a public park during certain hours.”
OccupyMaine, in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, has been camping in Lincoln Park for about three months. The groups oppose corporate influence in politics and government, and perceived economic injustices from a top-heavy distribution of wealth.
At its peak, about 75 people were staying overnights in Lincoln Park.
In its filing, the city also asked the court to decide quickly on OccupyMaine’s request for an injunction barring the city from carrying out an eviction approved 8-1 by the City Council on Dec. 7.
The city wants a speedy decision because it pledged not to evict the protesters until a decision is made on the injunction. If a judge rules against OccupyMaine’s request for a temporary restraining order, the city can kick the protesters out.
“Even if certain types of occupancy are considered activity protected by the First Amendment, state laws or local ordinances … comprise reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on freedom of speech as protected by the Constitution,” City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said in a news release.
The city’s filing cites federal and state laws, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence. It claims precedent supports “compliance with health, welfare and safety codes like the City’s Building Code and Fire Codes as well as park maintenance and protection requirements.”
The city found OccupyMaine’s encampment in violation of several building and fire codes after a site inspection by police, fire and city officials in November. Those violations, as well as ongoing concerns about the safety of the occupiers amid several arrests and disturbances in the park, fueled the city’s decision to end the occupation.
The city also cites other lawsuits brought by Occupy-type groups in Augusta, Boston, Minneapolis and other cities. In those cases, courts deferred to similar case law in allowing municipalities to end the occupations.
The city’s hired Mark Dunlap of Norman, Hanson & DeTroy to be its lead attorney in the case. Unless the court asks OccupyMaine to file sooner, their attorney will have seven days to respond to the city’s filing.
OccupyMaine has been encamped for more than three months at Lincoln Park in Portland.
Read the city of Portland’s full court filing in response to OccupyMaine’s lawsuit: