MN Supreme Court "Freedom of Expression" Decision

How much can free speech rights be restricted by a manufactured home park owner in Minnesota? That’s the issue the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to review in APAC’s appeal of a lower court ruling.

The lawsuit grew out of an incident in a Lakeville park, Ardmor Village, when APAC was prohibited from leafleting in April and June 2003. According to APAC’s attorney, Kay Nord Hunt, with Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, P.A, the Supreme Court review is significant since it presents the first opportunity for the Supreme Court to interpret Minnesota’s "Freedom of Expression" statute and to provide appropriate guidelines.

The statute explicitly states that, “No park owner shall prohibit or adopt any rule prohibiting residents or other persons from peacefully organizing, assembling, canvassing, leafleting or otherwise exercising with the park their right of free expression for noncommercial purposes. A park owner may adopt and enforce rules that set reasonable limits as to the time, place and manner.” What constitutes reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech in park communities?

“We believe basic First Amendment rights issues are at play in this case and that the high court has recognized that,” Hunt says. A growing list of housing advocates, faith groups and free speech supporters have joined the cause as individual amicus curiae (friends of the court) because of the many implications of case. These organizations include: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Community Stabilization Project (CSP); Housing Preservation Project (HPP); Jewish Community Action (JCA); Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH); and Minnesota Senior Federation.

The public had a rare chance to see Minnesota’s highest court in action when the case was presented live on October 11 at Hutchinson High School, west of the Twin Cities. This is only the 24th time the Supreme Court has heard a case outside its St. Paul chambers as part of the Traveling Oral Arguments.

On a lighter note, UniProps’s lawyers were questioned about their time limit on canvassing in the park. Two questions were brought up, 1) could a person seeking election not doorknock their constituents without having to obtain a no contact list and 2) were Halloween “trick or treaters” not allowed to door knock for candy since they were soliciting.

To the first question their lawyer replied that yes, anyone seeking election would have to obtain a no contact list. To the second questions, regrettably, stumped by his own argument, the attorney had to agree that yes in fact trick or treating under their current rules made it seem like little kids could not ask for candy.