(CN) – Salt Lake County employees did not violate the free-speech rights of animal-rights activists who protested a Utah circus by calling police to break up the demonstration, the 10th Circuit ruled.
Peter Tucker and four others members of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition held a protest outside a circus at Salt Lake County Equestrian Park in South Jordan. The circus owner approached county park employees for help stopping the protest, and a county employee called the police, who threatened to arrest the protesters unless they disbanded.
Tucker filed suit under a Salt Lake County ordinance allowing impromptu demonstrations without a permit, after a 2004 settlement following a protest at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. In the settlement, the county agreed to waive a 30-day advance permit requirement for “small, spontaneous” demonstrations.
But the park where the circus was held is governed by city law, not county, and South Jordan requires protest permits, the Denver-based federal appeals court ruled.
The plaintiffs failed to establish a link between Salt Lake County employees and free-speech violations, the three-judge panel ruled, affirming the district court’s decision. South Jordan police officers were responsible for dissolving the protest rather than county employees, so the county cannot be held liable for First Amendment violations, the judges ruled.
The Utah Animal Rights Coalition did not have standing to sue, the court ruled, because it failed to identify a clear injury, but the individual protesters had sufficient standing because they planned to protest in the future.
South Jordan agreed to review its free-speech ordinances and said it would not enforce permit requirements for small, impromptu demonstrations.