(CN) – An alternative weekly Cleveland newspaper claims the city’s downtown alliance responded to published criticism by removing 26 of its distribution boxes from city streets.
Euclid Media Group, which publishes Cleveland Scene, filed a lawsuit against the Downtown Cleveland Alliance on Thursday in Cleveland federal court.
Cleveland Scene alleges violations of its free-speech rights, as well as a state-law claim of conversion.
DCA is a nonprofit organization that works with Cleveland’s police and sanitation departments.
Cleveland Scene claims DCA moved 26 of its newspaper distribution boxes, “amounting to 40 percent of Scene’s boxes in its densest circulation area,” from Jan. 25 to Feb. 10, in response to a critical story about arena renovation plans.
The newspaper says DCA did not notify it of the removal for two weeks. Cleveland Scene also alleges DCA admitted to taking the boxes after a witness saw a DCA representative loading one onto a truck.
According to the complaint, DCA offered “shifting, insufficient” explanations for the removal, from a rogue employee to safety concerns about the boxes being knocked over, “despite that each box is weighed down with cement blocks and weighs approximately 150 pounds.”
In addition to cultural news, Cleveland Scene offers investigative journalism. The newspaper linked the removal of the boxes to its criticism of “a controversial proposal for a nine-figure public subsidy” to renovate Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland Scene claims two of the 18 DCA board members – Cavaliers vice president Len Komoroski and Destination Cleveland chairman Dan Walsh – are “outspoken and financially self-interested supporters of this subsidy.”
“Regardless of DCA’s motive for pulling Scene’s journalism off the streets, the U.S. Constitution protects against any such infringement on speech absent a compelling justification that is plainly lacking here,” the lawsuit states. “The DCA, acting under color of law, cut Cleveland Scene off from its readers by stealing its property, and violated Euclid Media Group’s and the public’s constitutional rights in the process.”
According to the lawsuit, DCA returned the boxes on Feb. 15, “but many of them were damaged, with glass broken, and the concrete weights and platforms removed from many of them.”
Euclid Media Group also owns other alternative weekly papers around the country, such as the Orlando Weekly, Detroit Metro Times and St. Louis Riverfront Times.
In addition to its free-speech and conversion claims, Cleveland Scene also accuses DCA of violating its equal-protection and property rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The newspaper seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Attorney Peter Pattakos of the Cleveland-based Chandra Law Firm is representing the newspaper’s parent company.
DCA did not immediately respond Friday to an email request for comment.