(CN) - Utah's transportation authority unconstitutionally requires groups planning demonstrations to purchase a minimum $1 million insurance policy, the 10th Circuit ruled.
The ruling credits a challenge two environmental groups, Positive Change Utah and iMatter Utah, brought in 2011. They claimed that the DOT violated the First Amendment in forcing them to obtain liability insurance and sign an indemnification form over parade permits on state highways.
iMatter Utah, a climate-minded group, had received a free-expression permit for its plan for a march down Salt Lake City's State Street, past various government buildings.
Since State Street is a state highway, however, the Salt Lake City-issued permit was conditioned on the group's ability to obtain an additional permit from UDOT.
IMatter said it could not afford the required insurance, which ranged from $300 to $500, and that UDOT declined to grant it a waiver.
After a federal judge denied the group a temporary restraining order, iMatter marched, permit withheld, on the sidewalks of State Street.
Positive Change Utah faced a similar permit problem. Founder Alex Mateus said the group could not afford the required insurance, and UDOT denied his application.
Mateus' parade never materialized.
Separate federal complaints by the groups against various UDOT officials were consolidated, and U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby struck down the UDOT requirement in 2013.
A three-judge panel in Denver upheld that decision Monday, agreeing with Shelby that the department did not meet the burden of proving its stipulation was strictly related to an interest in protecting the public treasury against possible costs.
"In this case, Utah has failed to show how the costs it imposes on applicants align with the actual expenses Utah incurs in hosting a parade," Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote for the court.
Requiring indemnification is furthermore "not narrowly tailored to Utah's interest in protecting itself from financial liability," the 26-page ruling states.
"Given Utah's broad immunity, we suspect that Utah's potential parade liability - other than liability resulting from its own conduct - should be vanishingly small," Briscoe added. "Utah cannot require the permittee to bear the cost of insuring Utah against Utah's own negligence."
UDOT failed to persuade the court that there were "ample, alternative channels available," namely sidewalks, for demonstrators.
The ruling notes that iMatter participants ballooned off the sidewalk and into the street where there was oncoming traffic.
Citing Shelby's decision, Briscoe wrote that, "even if ample alternatives for speech exist ... the state cannot simply prohibit a group from speaking in a traditional public forum without demonstrating how the state's restriction on speech is narrowly tailored to serve a significant interest."
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