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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Homeless Group Loses Solicitation Ban Suit

(CN) - A charitable organization cannot sue a South Florida city over solicitation-permitting rules that never applied to it, a federal judge ruled.

In September 2012, Pembroke Pines, a city 13 miles west of Fort Lauderdale, passed a series of ordinances regulating charitable solicitation. The ordinances bar individuals and organizations from asking for donations from and offering services to drivers engaged in traffic on six major city roads, but exempt people who lawfully display signs along those roads. The regulations also require those who solicit for charitable organizations to register and get a permit from the Department of State, according to court filings.

The Cosac Foundation, a "religious based" charitable organization claimed in a federal lawsuit that the statute was overbroad and stopped its vendors from distributing The Homeless Voice, a newspaper that seeks to educate people about homelessness and poverty, on major public roads.

Cosac Foundation's vendor program gives job skills and meaningful work to homeless individuals, according to its complaint. And although its newspaper is free, vendors seek donations from the public on roads and sidewalks.

U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum dismissed most of the constitutional challenges to the ban last month, finding that it was a reasonable restriction on speech and promoted a significant government interest.

The ruling did, however, allow the foundation to pursue a claim that the city's code of ordinances contains an unconstitutional permitting scheme for charitable solicitations.

In granting the city summary judgment on Nov. 21, Rosenbaum found that the foundation lacked standing to sue because it is exempt from the city's permitting requirements.

Pembroke Pines has never received or denied a permit application from Cosac, nor has it ever collected a permit fee from the foundation, the judge noted.

Since the city has never threatened Cosac to apply the permitting rules to its activities, Cosac has failed to demonstrate a realistic danger of direct injury, according to the ruling.

Representatives for the parties did not reply to requests for comment.

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