News Isn’t Litter, Detroit Free Press Protests

     DETROIT (CN) — Facing an annual fine of $104 million, the Detroit Free Press filed a federal complaint to defend its circulation from one town’s anti-littering kick.
     The May 11 lawsuit against Orion Township came one day before Michigan’s largest daily newspaper brought the dispute onto its broadsheet. “We are not litterbugs, stop ticketing us,” the paper’s headline proclaimed.
     Orion and the Free Press have been at odds for months over distribution of Select, a weekly insert that the Free Press makes available to Sunday subscribers and without charge to nonsubscribers in the metro Detroit area.
     “Mistakes can occur,” the Free Press says, but the newspaper claims to “make[] reasonable efforts to see that [Select] is, in fact, requested and welcome at the homes to which it is delivered.”
     After all, “the publication is expensive to produce and deliver,” according to the complaint.
     Delivery by motor route is the only practical way to distribute the newspapers, but the Free Press bags its free Select publication to prevent copies from becoming wind-bone, according to the complaint.
     The Free Press says Orion township, which has at least 2,500 homes on its route, have been trying since February to intimidate it out of circulation.
     In February, Orion attorney Daniel Kelly told the township “had received complaints from private property owners of an ongoing dumping, depositing, placing, throwing, or leaving of unrequested and undesired newspapers and or flyers.”
     “The distribution of your company’s newspapers/flyers which are placed or thrown onto both private and public property fall within the ordinance definition of ‘litter,'” Kelly’s letter said.
     At $800 per copy, the Free Press says littering penalties would fine it $2 million a week, or $104 million a year, just for “doing business” in Orion.
     Orion has already served the Free Press with two littering citation, each carrying an $800 fine, according to the complaint.
     The township served the citations despite a warning from the Free Press that cites applicable state and federal precedents, which make clear that “newspapers cannot be termed ‘litter'” and that “township interference would be unconstitutional.”
     In addition to constituting unconstitutional prior restraint, the Free Press says threatened interference and legal intimidation is “outrageous and.”
     The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan warns the township to “steer far wide of the unlawful zone,” according to the Free Press’ complaint.
     The Detroit Free Press quoted Orion township supervisor Chris Barnett as calling the suit: “an absolute joke and harassment. It’s bullying and intimidation.”
     “There response isn’t to work with us collaboratively; it’s to sue me for $5 million,” Barnett told WDIV News. “It’s almost laughable and honestly I think it is going to do them more detriment then I think it will help them.”
     The paper seeks punitive damages and an injunction.
     A hearing on the citations is set for June 29, the Free Press says.

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