Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Court Tells City to Negotiate Damages After Its Wrongful Arrest of "Psalm Sing" Protesters Against Covid Restrictions

In Rench v. City of Moscow, (D ID, Feb. 1, 2023), an Idaho federal district court refused to dismiss a suit by three plaintiffs who were arrested for violating a COVID Public Health Emergency Order requiring masking or social distancing in public settings.  The Order was issued pursuant to an Ordinance that excluded expressive and associative activity protected by the 1st Amendment if the activity was not specifically prohibited in the Public Health Order. Plaintiffs participated in a local church's "psalm sing" to protest the Order.  In making the arrests, authorities overlooked the exclusion for 1st Amendment activity. Eventually the city moved to dismiss the case, but not before plaintiffs incurred significant legal expenses, The court said in part:

The City’s Code could not be more clear: Under a plain reading of the Order in conjunction with the Ordinance, all expressive activity was excluded from the mask or distance mandate because such conduct was not explicitly addressed in the Order itself. In other words, during the relevant time period, those participating in expressive or associative conduct were not required to mask or distance. Plaintiffs should never have been arrested in the first place, and the constitutionality of what the City thought it’s Code said is irrelevant.....

Given that Plaintiffs were wrongfully arrested, the City indisputably erred in interpreting its own Code, the City consequently misadvised its officers as to the Code’s application, and Plaintiffs are so far reasonable in their damages requests, this case should not need to see the inside of a courtroom. It would behoove everyone involved to take a step back from their respective positions and prepare to negotiate in good faith.

Christian Post reports on the decision.