At its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council tabled a revision to its littering and handbill ordinance that was meant to give residents the ability to regulate the kinds of newspapers that are deposited onto their property. The ordinance was aimed in part at publications that are delivered free in the community. The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to deposit a newspaper on someone’s property, if a notice forbidding delivery of that specific newspaper is posted on the front door. The misdemeanor is punishable by a combination of a fine up to $500 and 90 days in jail. [.pdf of marked up version of ordinance]
The ordinance would also create liability not just for the person who might deposit commercial handbills or newspapers onto someone’s property, but also for the corporate entities who “cause” that activity to take place.
First Amendment issues raised by the city’s attempt to restrict unwanted delivery include the possibility that the proposed ordinance has created a content-based distinction between newspapers and commercial handbills. [.pdf of City of Fresno v. Press Communications, Inc. (1994)] However, the U.S. Supreme Court has established a right of residents to regulate the degree to which they must contend with printed matter delivered to their property. [.pdf of Rowan v. U.S. Post Office Dept. (1970)] And in a more recent New York Supreme Court case, the court ruled that “neither a publisher nor a distributor has any constitutional right to continue to throw a newspaper onto the property of an unwilling recipient after having been notified not to do so.” [.pdf of Kenneth Tillman v. Distribution Systems of America]
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated that the ordinance was expected to be taken up again sometime in January 2012.
This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]