SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The city of Gilroy, Calif., and the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association cannot be held liable for booting members of a motorcycle gang from the city’s garlic festival for wearing vests with their club insignia, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Four members of the Top Hatters Motorcycle Club, a group that rode motorcycles and raised money for charities, arrived at the 2000 garlic festival wearing identical vests with patches of a skull, wings and a top hat on the back.
A festival security officer, intent on enforcing the unofficial dress code, asked the men to take off their vests. When the riders refused, the officer refunded their admission fees and ousted them from the festival.
In April 2007, a three-judge panel upheld the city’s right to enforce an unwritten dress code banning gang colors and “demonstrative insignia.”
After agreeing to rehear the case, the full circuit court ruled 6-5 that neither the festival association nor the city could be held liable, because the association is not a state actor, and the city merely enforced a private entity’s rights.
“Because there is no constitutional violation, there can be no municipal liability,” Judge O’Scannlain wrote. But even if the defendants had violated the Top Hatters’ constitutional rights, O’Scannlain added, the plaintiffs could not establish liability under Supreme Court precedent.
Judges Thomas, Wardlaw, Fisher and Paez dissented, and Judge Gould dissented in part.