Missouri Town Allowed to Ban “All Commercial Activity” in the Park

On the outskirts of St. Louis, the 400-person town of Twin Oaks, Missouri, dedicated a 11-acre park to the public in 1994. To “protect” the park, the town enacted a comprehensive ordinance that prohibited, among other things, obstruction of walkways, vehicles, hunting, and “all commercial activity” except with a permit.

Twin Oaks Park.

The park is quite picturesque. Consequently, it’s a popular location for photographs. Very popular. Sometimes up to eight photographers competed for space. The residents of Twin Oaks complained, and the town put up no-photography signs referencing the town’s prohibition of “all commercial activity” in the park. The town also enacted a fairly straightforward permit process for photographers (technically for any commercial use of the park) so as to “balance the interest of the other park users” and so that “the photographer receives the exclusive use of certain areas in which they wish to do their shoot so that they can perform their shoot efficiently.”

Josephine Havlak was one such photographer. She sued, alleging that the town’s policy violated the First Amendment. She argued that the ordinance and permitting scheme was directed to curtail the speech of photographers–thus constituting content-based discrimination. The Eighth Circuit disagreed, found the ordinance and permitting scheme content-neutral, and ruled for the town.

Case: Josephine Havlak Photographer, Inc. v. Village of Twin Oaks, No. 16-3377 (8th Cir. July 26, 2017) (opinion here).

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