Rivero et al v. Montgomery County, Maryland et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Paul W. Grimm on 5/2/2017. (kns, Deputy Clerk)(c/m 5/3/2017)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
NOHORA RIVERO and
LEGAL AID BUREAU, INC.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, *
Case No.: PWG-16-1186
On August 18, 2015, Plaintiff Nohara Rivero and her colleague at Legal Aid Bureau, Inc.
(“Legal Aid”) conducted outreach to migrant farmworkers employed by Defendant Fruits and
Vegetables by Lewis Orchard, LLC (“Lewis Orchards”), which is owned by Defendants Robert
and Linda Lewis (collectively, “the Lewises”).1 When the Lewises saw Rivero and her coworker
on their property, they called the Montgomery County Police Department, accusing the Legal
Aid employees of trespassing. Defendant Officer Alexander Kettering responded to the call and,
after mediating between the two sides, issued Trespass Notifications and ordered the Legal Aid
employees to leave the property.2 Rivero and Legal Aid allege that the Defendants violated their
rights under the First Amendment and its state analogue and seek compensatory damages,
declaratory and injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees. Am. Compl., ECF No. 42. Defendants
I will refer to Robert and Linda Lewis and Lewis Orchards collectively as the “Lewis
I will refer to Officer Kettering and Montgomery County collectively as the “County
move to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety for want of jurisdiction and for failure to
state a claim. Lewis Mot., ECF No. 44; Cty. Mot., ECF No. 45. The Motions are fully briefed,
Lewis Mem., ECF No. 44-1; Cty. Mem., ECF No. 45-1; Pls.’ Opp’n, ECF No. 48; Lewis Reply,
ECF No. 49; Cty. Reply, ECF No. 50, and no hearing is necessary, Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). I
find that Plaintiffs have stated claims for infringement of their clearly established right to
disseminate information through door-to-door canvassing and that it is plausible that the Lewises
may be state actors and therefore amenable to suit; however, I also find that Plaintiffs have failed
to state a state-law claim for damages. Accordingly, I will deny the Lewis Defendants’ Motions
to Dismiss and grant the County Defendants’ Motion in part and deny it in part.
Legal Aid’s Farmworkers Program combats unfair labor practices in the agricultural
industry and helps migrant and seasonal workers obtain access to public benefits. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 10–11. Oftentimes, migrant farmworkers live in onsite housing provided by their employers.
Id. ¶ 22. As part of its Farmworkers Program, Legal Aid makes annual, afterhours visits to such
migrant labor camps in Maryland and Delaware to inform workers of their rights and of available
public benefits and to listen to their concerns. Id. ¶ 11.
This case arises out of one such site visit on August 18, 2015, when Legal Aid employee
Nohora Rivero and Spencer Evans, a summer law clerk, visited Lewis Orchards, located at
19100 Peach Tree Road in Dickerson, Maryland. Id. ¶¶ 2, 33. Rivero and Evans hoped to speak
with the farm’s twelve migrant guest workers, who were legally present in the United States on
H-2A visas, and who lived onsite in two separate buildings, one at 18900 Peach Tree Road and
another at 19101B Peach Tree Road, the latter of which the Plaintiffs allege is not an address that
appears in Montgomery County’s public records. Id. ¶¶ 33–34. According to the Plaintiffs,
nothing differentiates the two residential buildings from the rest of the Lewis Orchards property.
Id. ¶ 34.
At 7:00 P.M., Rivero and Evans arrived at the farm and spoke with five workers at one
of the two migrant residences about potential wage-and-hour violations. Id. ¶¶ 35–36. Next,
they headed towards the second residence but could not find it and returned to the first building
to ask for directions. Id. ¶¶ 37–38. As Rivero spoke again with the farmworkers, the Lewises
approached and inquired about the Rivero’s and Evans’s business on the property. Id. ¶ 38.
Rivero and Evans disclosed that they worked for Legal Aid, prompting Linda Lewis to “fl[y] into
a rage,” accusing them of trespassing, and to call the police. Id. ¶ 39. While waiting for the
police to arrive, Rivero allegedly overheard Linda Lewis speaking on a cellphone to an unknown
individual and instructing the listener to “ ‘call everybody’ for a ‘big meeting’ ” the following
day. Id. ¶ 46.
Officer Kettering arrived on the scene and, after speaking with the Lewises, told Rivero
and Evans that they were trespassing and instructed them to leave the farm. Id. ¶ 40. Rivero
responded that migrant workers have the right to receive visitors. Id. Because Legal Aid often
encounters resistance from farm owners and from local police departments when trying to
contact farmworkers, its staff carries copies of relevant legal authority that sets forth the
organization’s right to conduct outreach. See id. ¶¶ 28–30. Accordingly, when Officer Kettering
instructed Rivero and Evans to leave the property, Rivero produced a copy of a state attorney
general’s opinion that purportedly affirmed Legal Aid’s right to engage in such activity. Id. ¶ 41.
But she mistakenly provided a copy of an opinion from the Virginia Attorney General, which
Officer Kettering read and correctly determined had no legal force in Maryland. Id. Evans
found an analogous opinion from the Maryland Attorney General on his smartphone, but Officer
Kettering refused to read the document. Id.
Instead, he issued Trespass Notifications against Rivero and Evans that prohibited them
for a one-year period from entering the property at “19101 Peach Tree Road,” an address
parenthetically described as “Lewis Orchards.” Rivero Trespass Notification Form, Cty. Mot.
Ex. B., ECF No. 45-3; Evans Trespass Notification Form, Cty. Mot. Ex. B.; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41,
43. As a factual basis for the Notifications, the forms state that Rivero and Evans had engaged in
“[u]nwanted distribution of literature” on Lewis Orchards that had not been “authorized by
[the] agent of [the] property.” Rivero Trespass Notification Form; Evans Trespass Notification
Form; Am. Compl. ¶ 44. Linda Lewis signed each Notification, affirming that she was the
“owner or agent” of the property at issue. Id. The Notifications stated that failure to comply by
Rivero or Evans would result in “immediate arrest” and criminal prosecution pursuant to Md.
Code Ann., Crim. Law §§ 6-401 to 410. Rivero Trespass Notification Form; Evans Trespass
Notification Form; Am. Compl. ¶ 45. Rivero and Evans understood the Notifications to bar
them from entering Lewis Orchards in its entirety, including the migrant farmworker residences
and their curtilage. Id. ¶ 44.
Rivero has attempted to follow up with the Lewis Orchards farmworkers over the
telephone but states that they are less willing to talk with her than they were during their
previous in-person interaction. Id. ¶ 49. Based on this observation and the “big meeting” that
Rivero and Evans allegedly overheard Lewis organizing, Legal Aid believes that the Lewises
have instructed their workers not to communicate with the organization. Id. ¶¶ 46, 48, 50.
Rivero and Legal Aid filed this lawsuit on April 20, 2016. Compl., ECF No. 1. Three
days later, Montgomery County Police Department Commander David Anderson rescinded the
Trespass Notifications. Email from David Anderson, Commander, Montgomery Cty. Police
Dep’t, to Deborah Jeon, Legal Dir., ACLU of Md. (Apr. 23, 2016 1:52 P.M.), Cty. Mot., Ex. C,
ECF No. 45-4; Id. ¶ 53. Notwithstanding the rescission of the Notifications, the Plaintiffs
continue to pursue a § 1983 claim against Officer Kettering in his individual and official
capacities (Count I), for which they seek compensatory and punitive damages as well as
injunctive relief. Id. ¶¶ 13, 56–61, Prayer for Relief ¶¶ B, E–F. In addition, they are pursuing a
tort claim against both Kettering and Montgomery County for violation of their state
constitutional rights (Count II), for which they seek compensatory damages and injunctive relief.
Id. ¶¶ 62–66, Prayer for Relief ¶¶ B, F. Finally, the Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment stating
that the Defendants violated their rights under the First Amendment and Article 40 of the
Maryland Declaration of Rights and that the Defendants cannot prevent them from visiting
farmworkers living on the Lewis Orchards property. 3 Id. ¶¶ 67–75, Prayer for Relief ¶¶ A, C.
Standard of Review
Defendants move to dismiss pursuant to both Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). “A
court should grant a Rule 12(b)(1) motion ‘if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute
and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.’ ” El-Amin v. Int’l Longshoremen’s
Ass’n Local No. 333, No. CCB-10-3653, 2011 WL 2580630, at *2 (D. Md. June 28, 2011)
The Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief against the Lewises and Lewis Orchards. Id. Prayer
for Relief ¶ D. The Amended Complaint currently only names the Lewis Defendants under the
declaratory judgment claim. See id. ¶¶ 56–75. In order to obtain injunctive relief against the
Lewises or Lewis Orchards, Plaintiffs would either need to request permission to file a second
amended complaint naming the Lewis Defendants in their § 1983 and/or state-law claim or, if I
grant a declaratory judgment, bring a separate action to enforce the judgment after any
subsequent violation that occurs. See 28 U.S.C. § 2202 (authorizing “[f]urther necessary and
proper relief based on a declaratory judgment or decree . . . after reasonable notice and hearing,
against any adverse party whose rights have been determined by such judgment); Powell v.
McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 499 (“A declaratory judgement can . . . be used as a predicate to
further relief, including an injunction.” (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2202)).
(quoting Evans v. B.F. Perkins, Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999)). “A Rule 12(b)(1)
motion to dismiss is not limited to challenges to jurisdiction appearing from the face of the
complaint. In considering the allegations, the court may consider extrinsic evidence and, if such
evidence is disputed, may weigh and determine the facts.” United States ex rel. Ackley v. Int’l
Bus. Mach. Corp., 76 F. Supp. 2d 654, 659 (D. Md. 1999). Courts “regard the pleadings’
allegations as mere evidence on the issue,” and may consider additional evidence. Richmond,
Fredericksburg & Potomac Ry. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). Notably, if
“ ‘a defendant proffers evidence that calls the court’s jurisdiction into question,’ ” then “no
presumption of truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff’s allegations.” Ackley, 76 F. Supp. 2d at 659
(quoting Commodity Trend Serv., Inc. v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n, 149 F.3d 679,
685 (7th Cir. 1998)). When a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction, the burden is on
the plaintiff to prove that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See Evans, 166 F.3d at 647; El-Amin,
2011 WL 2580630, at *2.
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Amended Complaint is subject to dismissal if it
“fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” A complaint must contain “a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(a)(2), and must state “a plausible claim for relief,” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678–79
(2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rule 12(b)(6)’s purpose “is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not
to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.”
Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012)
(quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)).
Defendants argue that the Amended Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety
because Commander Anderson’s rescission of the Trespass Notifications mooted the Plaintiffs’
claims. Lewis Mem. 6–7; Cty. Mem. 9–10, 16, 18–22. Moreover, the Montgomery County
Police Department issued a Training Bulletin shortly after the Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, which
[P]ersons providing . . . lawful services [to migrant workers] are allowed to take
customary routes at customary times to the living quarters of the worker to
provide these services. “Living quarters” includes but is not limited to outside
areas surrounding the actual structure. . . .
Officers should not employ the State’s criminal trespass laws in an effort to
remove individuals from the living quarters of migrant workers where it appears
that the individuals are trying to provide lawful services to the migrants. This
applies even if the owner(s) of the property on which the migrants are working
seek the removal of these individuals.
Training Bulletin #16-06, at 1, Montgomery Cty., Md. Dep’t of Police (May 5, 2016), Cty. Mot.
Ex. D., ECF No. 45-5.
Article III restricts federal courts’ jurisdiction to “cases” and “controversies.” U.S.
Const. art. III, § 2. “[A] case is moot when the issues presented are no longer ‘live’ or the parties
lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” United States v. Hardy, 545 F.3d 280, 283
(4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Powell, 395 U.S. at 496). But, if it still can be said that the plaintiff
“ ‘suffered, or [is] threatened with, an actual injury traceable to the defendant and likely to be
redressed by a favorable judicial decision,’ ” then the plaintiff “continue[s] to have a ‘personal
stake in the outcome’ of the lawsuit,” and the case is not moot.
Wright v. Bishop, No.
DKC-12-947, 2012 WL 4324911, at *2 (D. Md. Sept.19, 2012) (quoting Spencer v. Kemna, 523
U.S. 1, 7 (1998), and Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472 (1990)).
Of particular note here, “voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct does not deprive
the tribunal of power to hear and determine the case, i.e., does not make the case moot[,]” so
long as “a dispute over the legality of the challenged practices” remains. United States v. W.T.
Grant Co., 345 U.S. 629, 632 (1953). Even so, a defendant may show that voluntary cessation
renders an issue moot by “demonstrate[ing] that ‘there is no reasonable expectation that the
wrong will be repeated.’ ” Id. at 633 (quoting United States v. Aluminum Co. of Am., 148 F.2d
416, 448 (2d. Cir. 1945)). But, the defendant “bears [a] formidable burden” in making such a
showing. Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 190
Neither Commander Anderson’s rescission of the Trespass Notifications nor the Police
Department’s issuance of a Training Bulletin that affirms Legal Aid’s right to conduct outreach
to migrant farmworkers over farm owners’ objections moots the issues presented to the Court.
Although the Training Bulletin goes a long way towards protecting Legal Aid employees’ and
others’ rights, it only indicates that officers “should not” invoke criminal trespass laws to prevent
individuals from providing lawful services to migrant workers; it does not prohibit the practice.
Training Bulletin #16-06, at 1. And what the Police Department gives, it may take away.
Moreover, the Bulletin fails to recognize that individuals have a First Amendment right to
conduct outreach to migrant farmworkers living on their employers’ property. 4 One might be
tempted to dismiss this as a drafting oversight or something that the Bulletin implicitly
recognizes, but the County Defendants’ briefing strongly suggests otherwise. Indeed, the title of
Section VI.A of their Memorandum in Support of their Motion to Dismiss emphatically declares,
The Bulletin recognizes that migrant workers enjoy a “fundamental First Amendment right to
receive information from those who seek to provide them with assistance,” but it is silent on
whether “persons providing lawful services” enjoy equivalent protections for their activities.
Training Bulletin #16-06, at 1 (emphasis added).
“Plaintiffs Do Not Have a First Amendment Right to Visit Migrant Workers.” Cty. Mem. 8.
Based on the ephemeral nature of the Training Bulletin and the County’s apparent position that
the right to conduct outreach to migrant farmworkers lacks grounding in the First Amendment, I
cannot say that the Defendants have carried their “formidable burden” to demonstrate that the
allegedly wrongful conduct cannot “reasonably be expected to recur.” See Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at
With respect to Count III of the Amended Complaint, the County Defendants also argue
that Rivero and Legal Aid lack standing to seek declaratory relief because they lack a “personal
stake” in the outcome of the case and have pleaded an “abstract injury.” Cty. Mem. 19. In
support of this argument, they cite Los Angeles v. Lyons, in which the Supreme Court held that
an individual who had been subjected to an illegal chokehold by a police officer lacked standing
to pursue injunctive relief against a police department because he could not establish more than a
speculative risk of experiencing another illegal chokehold. 461 U.S. 95, 105 (1983). According
to the Court, Lyons’s claim failed because he neither established any specific reason to expect
that he would have another encounter with the police or suffer another illegal chokehold. Id. at
By contrast, Plaintiffs, who make annual visits to migrant-farmworker camps in
Maryland, allege that “farm employers frequently deny access to outreach workers, such as
Rivero, who try to contact farmworkers” and that “state and local police often disregard [Legal
Aid’s rights], siding instead with farm owners and employers.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 28–30. The
Amended Complaint cites reports that document this phenomenon in Maryland, as well as other
states. Id. ¶ 31 n.4; see also Legal Aid Bureau, Inc., Statewide Advocacy Support Unit, Human
Rights Project, Report to U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, apps.
incidents in which farm owners and law enforcement prevented Legal Aid workers from
conducting outreach to migrant farmworkers). Indeed, Rivero herself allegedly had a nearly
factually indistinguishable encounter in Carroll County, Maryland in 2008. Report to U.N. app.
D. And, as discussed above, the County Defendants maintain that the First Amendment does not
protect Legal Aid’s activities. The apparent history of conflict between Legal Aid and farm
owners and law-enforcement officials in Maryland, coupled with the position taken by the
County Defendants in this case persuades me that the likelihood of future controversies of a
similar ilk is far from speculative or abstract. The Plaintiffs have standing to litigate the issues
raised in the Amended Complaint.5
Moreover, contrary to what the County Defendants’ argue, Cty. Mem. 9–10, 16, the
Plaintiffs clearly have standing to pursue damages for the injuries they purportedly suffered as a
result of the alleged constitutional violations, and it is beyond dispute that whatever steps the
County has taken to prevent future infringement of constitutional rights does not remedy any
injuries the Plaintiffs already have suffered from the incident at issue in this case. Although the
County Defendants contest the Plaintiffs’ entitlement to such damages, Cty. Mem. 4, they must
make their case on the merits; the Court clearly possesses jurisdiction over the § 1983 claim and
the analogous state claim.6 On a similar note, the Lewis Defendants argue that the Court lacks
Relatedly, the County Defendants argue that due to the rescission of the Trespass Notifications
and the issuance of the Training Bulletin the potential for any future injury to Rivero or Legal
Aid is speculative and abstract, making the issue not ripe for adjudication. Cty. Mem. 21-22.
But for the same reasons that there is no Lyons standing problem, the case is also ripe for review.
Am Compl. ¶¶ 11, 28–29.
The County Defendants also argue that if I dismiss Counts I and III of the Amended Complaint,
the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the state claim in Count II. Cty. Mem. 16.
Although I will not dismiss either of the federal claims, I wish to point out that the County
Defendants appear to misapprehend the degree of discretion that the Court enjoys in determining
jurisdiction over them because they are not state actors. Lewis Mem. 7. But this too is a merits
argument, and I will address it below.7
The Defendants assert that the Amended Complaint is factually deficient in several ways.
Before addressing the Defendants’ legal arguments for dismissal, I will first determine whether
the Amended Complaint pleads facts from which I can “draw the reasonable inference” that the
Defendants are “liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
whether or not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. As Plaintiffs correctly note, Pls.’ Opp’n 22
n.15, a “district court may decline to exercise jurisdiction over a [state-law] claim” when it
“dismisses all claims over which it has original jurisdiction,” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) (emphasis
added). In other words, dismissal of related state-law claims is not mandatory when a court
dismisses all of the federal claims in a complaint. And, as recognized by the Fourth Circuit,
“trial courts enjoy wide latitude in determining whether or not to retain jurisdiction over state
claims when all federal claims have been extinguished.” Shanaghan v. Cahill, 58 F.3d 106, 110
(4th Cir. 1995). In exercising their discretion, courts consider “convenience and fairness to the
parties, the existence of any underlying issues of federal policy, comity, and considerations of
judicial economy.” Id.
As the Third Circuit has helpfully explained:
[I]t is important to distinguish elements of a claim that relate to Congress’s
jurisdiction, i.e. its constitutional authority to act, from issues that relate to the
jurisdiction of the courts. For example, . . . the state action requirement of a
§ 1983 claim constitutes a basis for Congress to regulate conduct pursuant to § 5
of the Fourteenth Amendment. Courts sometimes refer to [this] element as
But the jurisdictional concerns that a court has the power to resolve . . .
pursuant to a Rule 12(b)(1) motion involve the court’s jurisdiction. That
jurisdiction is defined first by Article III of the Constitution, which enumerates
the kinds of power that Congress may vest in the federal courts, and then by
statutes, such as §§ 1331 and 1343, which actually vest a court with power. . . .
Elements of a claim that are called jurisdictional because they relate to Congress’s
jurisdiction remain questions of the merits . . . .
Kulick v. Pocono Downs Racing Ass’n, Inc., 816 F.2d 895, 898 (3d Cir. 1987) (citations
The Lewis Defendants maintain that they called the police not because Rivero and Evans
were speaking with their workers but because they observed Evans urinating on their topsoil and
standing near a shed that houses dangerous chemicals and because he and Rivero refused to
produce identification. Lewis Mem. 10–11. Perhaps so, but that is the Lewises’ version of the
events, not what the Plaintiffs have alleged. The Plaintiffs allege that the Lewises confronted the
Legal Aid staff while Rivero was seeking directions from the farm workers and that Linda Lewis
“flew into a rage” upon learning that that Rivero and Evans worked for Legal Aid and promptly
called the police. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38–39. Thus, a factual dispute exists concerning the Lewises’
reason for calling the police that cannot be resolved at the motion-to-dismiss stage, and I must
accept the well-pleaded allegations that the Lewises called the police in order to prevent Rivero
and Evans from speaking with the farmworkers.
The Lewis Defendants also argue that the Amended Complaint fails to allege that the
Trespass Notifications issued by Officer Kettering prevented Rivero and Evans from conducting
outreach at the migrant farmworkers’ residences. Lewis Mem. 3, 8, 10-11. Specifically, they
argue that the Trespass Notifications do not apply to the migrant farmworker residences at 18900
and 19101B Peach Tree Road because the address that appears on the Notifications is 19101
Peach Tree Road. Lewis Mem. 8. But the Amended Complaint explains that 19101 Peach Tree
Road “does not seem to appear on Montgomery property plats or in property tax records” and
that “the Lewises’ property in the vicinity is contiguous and undifferentiated.” Am. Compl.
¶¶ 34, 43. And since “[n]othing Kettering said suggested that the no-trespass order was limited
to certain areas of Lewis Orchards property, or that Rivero and Evans were permitted to visit
workers,” they “reasonably interpreted” the Trespass Notifications “to apply to all activities on
Lewis Orchards and related properties.”
Id. ¶ 43.
Moreover, the Trespass Notifications
parenthetically describe the address at issue as “Lewis Orchards” in its entirety and specifically
state that they were issued in response to “[u]nwanted distribut[ion] of literature,” activity that
only occurred at one of the two farmworker residences. Rivero Trespass Notification Form;
Evans Trespass Notification Form; Am. Compl. ¶ 44. Based on these alleged facts and the
information that appears on the Trespass Notifications, the Plaintiffs have successfully pleaded
that they were legally barred from entering the farmworker residences at Lewis Orchards.
The County Defendants dispute that Officer Kettering had any knowledge that Rivero
and Evans were attempting to contact the migrant farmworkers at their residences. Cty. Reply
2–3. According to them, the Amended Complaint contains no allegation that “Rivero ever
communicated to Officer Kettering her specific desire to service the second group of migrant
workers” or that Officer Kettering even knew that a second worker residence existed or that the
workers there wanted to speak with the Legal Aid employees. Id. at 3. But the Amended
Complaint states that after Officer Kettering initially asked Rivero and Evans to leave, they
showed him a Virginia Attorney General Opinion discussing their right to visit migrant
farmworkers housed on employer property and attempted to show him an analogous opinion
from the Maryland Attorney General. Am. Compl. ¶ 41. From these factual allegations, it
plausibly may be inferred that Officer Kettering gleaned that the Legal Aid employees’ purpose
in asserting their right to remain on the property was to interact with the migrant farmworkers
Finally, the Lewis Defendants contend that the Plaintiffs plead no facts that suggest that
they will be prevented from visiting the farmworkers in the future. Lewis Mem. 11. But the
Amended Complaint states that the Plaintiffs overheard Linda Lewis speaking to someone on the
phone and instructing the listener to “ ‘call everybody’ for a ‘big meeting’ ” the following day.
Am. Compl. ¶ 46. Moreover, the Plaintiffs allege that farmworkers were hesitant to speak with
Rivero during follow-up calls. Id. ¶¶ 48–50. Based on these allegations, it is plausible to infer
that the Lewises are chilling Legal Aid’s organizing efforts by instructing their workers not to
speak with the organization.
Accordingly, in determining whether the Plaintiffs claims may proceed, I must accept the
well-pleaded facts that the Lewises called the police because Rivero and Evans were speaking
with their workers; that Officer Kettering knew that Rivero and Evans were on the property to
speak with migrant farmworkers; that the Trespass Notifications he issued prohibited them from
doing so; and that the Lewises further undermined Legal Aid’s efforts by instructing their
workers to refrain from speaking to Legal Aid staff.
Count I: Section 1983
The County Defendants raise a number of defenses to the § 1983 claim against Officer
Kettering. First, they argue that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim because they have no First
Amendment right to conduct outreach to migrant farmworkers. Cty. Mem. 8–10. And if such a
right exists, they argue that qualified immunity shields Officer Kettering from liability under
§ 1983 for violating that right. Id. at 10–12. Finally, they argue that Plaintiffs cannot recover
punitive damages from Officer Kettering because he did not act with actual malice. Cty. Mem.
Plaintiffs pleaded their § 1983 claim against Officer Kettering in both his official and
individual capacities. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. The County Defendants argue in their Reply that
Officer Kettering cannot be sued in his official capacity. Cty. Reply 16–17. They also raised
this issue in a pre-motion letter setting forth the factual and legal bases for their Motion. ECF
No. 37. They did not, however, raise the issue in the Memorandum in Support of their Motion to
Dismiss. I am inclined to agree with the County Defendants; however, “[t]he ordinary rule in
federal courts is that an argument raised for the first time in a reply brief or memorandum will
not be considered.” Clawson v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 451 F. Supp. 2d 731, 734 (D.
Md. 2006). Although the County Defendants raised the issue in the pre-motion letter, their
A. Plaintiffs’ First Amendment Rights
Section 1983 provides a cause of action for damages or equitable relief to remedy “the
deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” by a
“person” acting “under color” of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635,
The County Defendants argue that the § 1983 claim fails because the First
Amendment offers no protection for Legal Aid’s outreach efforts to migrant farmworkers. Cty.
Mem. 8-10. They attempt to bolster their argument by pointing out that Maryland’s trespass
statute, reinforced by a Maryland Attorney General Opinion on the topic, provides an exception
that codifies migrant workers’ right to receive persons providing lawful services without
obtaining permission from the landlord, without recognizing a correlative right for providers to
offer their services without property owners’ permission. Id. at 8–9; see also Md. Code Ann.,
Crim. Law § 6-406(d)(2)(i) (“This section . . . does not . . . prevent a person who resides on
cultivated land from receiving a person who seeks to provide a lawful service . . . .”); 67 Md. Op.
Att’y Gen. 64 (1982).9
Officer Kettering argues that Plaintiffs seek to “create a [F]irst
Amendment right” to “interject [one]self into the dwellings of migrant workers.” Cty. Mem.
8-9. As will be seen, this argument is too clever by half, because the right of migrant workers to
receive lawful service without the corresponding right of providers to offer them is no right at
failure to address it in their Memorandum deprived the Plaintiffs of an opportunity to be heard on
the matter. I will therefore give the Plaintiffs fourteen days to submit a letter of no more than
three pages setting forth their position and will rule on the issue after reviewing their submission.
The Opinion provides in part: “We can perceive no legitimate business or security interest . . .
that would justify denying the migrant workers the opportunity to receive aid and other services
offered by governmental and private service agencies and organizations.
representatives of these groups may enter the camps to seek out migrant workers who
might benefit from their services, and they may remain on the premises as long as their
services are needed or desired.” 67 Md. Op. Att’y Gen. 64, 67 (1982) (emphasis added).
It appears to me that Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 6-406(d)(2)(i) and the Attorney
General’s Opinion accurately reflect service providers’ clearly established First Amendment
right, which I will expand upon shortly, to enter onto private property to speak with residents.
To the extent that either the statute or the Opinion are articulated from the migrant farmworkers’
perspective rather than the service providers’, I would simply observe that when it comes to
speech, it takes two to communicate. Migrant farmworkers’ right to receive information, which
the County Defendants acknowledge, would have little force if it did not also implicitly (or, as I
read the statute and Opinion, explicitly) protect providers’ right to contact the workers. Be that
as it may, even if Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 6-406(d)(2)(i) and the Maryland Attorney
General’s Opinion were ambiguous as to service providers’ right to disseminate information,
speakers do not require an engraved invitation from the state to engage in First Amendment
activity. Since 1925, the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause has applied directly to the
states. Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 666 (1925). Accordingly, to the extent that Md. Code
Ann., Crim. Law § 6-406(d)(2)(i) and the Maryland Attorney General’s Opinion protect the free
speech rights of migrant farmworkers or those who contact them, they either reiterate or expand
federal rights. To the extent that they fall below the floor set by the First Amendment, they
incompletely reflect Marylanders’ rights.
What then is the scope of Legal Aid’s First Amendment rights in this context? The
Plaintiffs provide a fulsome, accurate, and largely unrebutted answer to that question. Pls.’
The First Amendment protects individuals’ right “to impart information and
opinions to citizens at their homes.” Schneider v. New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 152 (1939).
Jurisdictions may regulate such activity “in the interest of public safety, health, welfare or
convenience,” but not without “substantial” reason to do so, i.e. such regulation is reviewed
under the rubric of heightened or strict scrutiny. Id. at 150–51. In Schneider, the Court struck
down several municipal ordinances that restricted the public distribution of literature, id. at
148-50, among them, Irvington, New Jersey’s, which required individuals “canvass[ing],
soclit[ing], distribut[ing] circulars, or other matter, or call[ing] from house to house” to secure a
permit from the local police department, id. at 149. The Court found Irvington’s ordinance
particularly offensive because it “permit[ed] canvassing only subject to the power of a police
officer to determine, as a censor, what literature may be distributed from house to house and who
may distribute it,” devolving the power to determine the scope of First Amendment protection to
the “officer’s judgment” and “discretion.” Id. at 152. And the Court has repeatedly reaffirmed
Schneider’s holding. See Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc’y of N.Y., Inc. v. Vill. of Straton, 536
U.S. 150, 168 (2002) (invalidating ordinance requiring individuals engaged in door-to-door
advocacy to obtain a permit); Hynes v. Mayor & City Counsel of Oradell, 425 U.S. 610, 620
(1976) (invalidating ordinance requiring individuals conducting door-to-door canvassing or
solicitation for charitable causes or political campaigns to provide written notice to local police
department); Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 110–11 (1943) (invalidating ordinance
that required individuals conducting door-to-door solicitation to pay a tax); Martin v. City of
Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 149 (1943) (invalidating ordinance prohibiting individuals distributing
literature from ringing doorbells, sounding knockers, or summoning residents to the door); cf.
Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940) (invalidating on free-exercise grounds
ordinance prohibiting individuals from engaging in religious, charitable, or philanthropic
solicitation without determination by the Secretary of Public Welfare that the solicitation was
for a bona fide charitable or philanthropic cause). And the First Amendment also protects legal
professionals’ solicitation efforts. In re Primus, 436 U.S. 412, 426 (1978); NAACP v. Button,
371 U.S. 415, 429 (1963).
Parts of the County Defendants’ response to the Plaintiffs’ analysis are just plain silly.
Much of their Reply is devoted to discussing the Supreme Court cases cited by the Plaintiffs,
Cty. Reply 4–7, 11, and dismissing each as inapplicable because they “invalidated provisions of
. . . statutes . . . [not] at issue in the instant case” and attempting to distinguish them because
“Plaintiffs have not challenged the constitutionality of any statute, including the Maryland
Cultivated Land Trespassing Statute,” id. at 4–5. This is about as persuasive as arguing that the
cases are distinguishable because different parties’ names appear in the case caption. In any
event, the County is simply wrong on this point. Plaintiffs do challenge the constitutionality of a
statute: the Amended Complaint is an as-applied challenge to Maryland’s criminal trespassing
statute, which the Trespass Notifications cited as the basis for threatened prosecution. Rivero
Trespass Notification Form; Evans Trespass Notification Form. Naturally, Plaintiffs have not
brought a facial challenge to the trespassing statute—as the County Defendants appear to believe
they must—because there are of course many constitutionally unassailable applications of that
law. It is far from unusual for First Amendment claims to attack particular applications of
otherwise constitutional laws.10 See, e.g., Fed. Election Comm’n v. Wis. Right to Life, Inc., 551
Of course, a state or local official can infringe First Amendment rights without acting pursuant
to a specific statute or regulation. For example, in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist.,
the Supreme Court held that school administrators violated students’ First Amendment rights by
prohibiting them from wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. 393 U.S. 503,
514 (1969). Moreover, Plaintiffs would still state a claim even if Officer Kettering had banished
Rivero and Evans from Lewis Orchards without acting pursuant to any legal authority, as § 1983
also provides a remedy for deprivation of constitutional rights accomplished through a state
official’s “[m]isuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because
the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.” See Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167,
184 (1961) (quoting United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)), overruled on other
grounds in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
U.S. 449, 457 (2007) (as-applied challenge to Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s ban on
corporate funding of issue ads that name federal candidates aired shortly before primary and
general elections); Educ. Media Co. at Va. Tech, Inc. v. Insley, 731 F.3d 291, 298 (4th Cir. 2013)
(as-applied challenge to Virginia regulation that prohibited alcohol advertisements in college
newspapers); Tepeyac v. Montgomery Cty., 5 F. Supp. 3d 745, 753–54 (D. Md. 2014) (as-applied
challenge to Montgomery County resolution requiring certain pregnancy centers to post signs
disclosing lack of medical professionals on staff).
The County Defendants also argue that the Lewises had the right to speak for their
workers by turning away Rivero and Evans. Cty. Def.’s Reply 7-13. They cite Martin for the
proposition that “the individual master of each household” has the power to refuse door-to-door
canvassers. 319 U.S. at 141.
Additionally, they cite Frisby v. Schultz, which upheld an
ordinance barring anti-abortion picketing outside of private residences on the principle that an
“important aspect of residential privacy is protection of the unwilling listener.” 487 U.S. 474,
484, 488–89 (1988). The County Defendants’ argument might have some purchase if not for the
provision of Maryland’s trespass statute that it repeatedly cites in its briefing. Whether or not the
Lewises can or should be considered the “master[s]” of their workers’ homes, Martin, 319 U.S.
at 141, Maryland law makes very clear that while an individual ordinarily cannot enter
“cultivated land” without “permission from the owner,” the law “does not . . . prevent a person
who resides on cultivated land from receiving a person who seeks to provide a lawful service.”
Md. Code. Ann., Crim. Law. § 6-406(b), (d)(2)(i). Since subsection (d) of the provision is styled
as an exception to subsection (b)’s requirement that individuals obtain the property owner’s
permission to enter cultivated land, the only reasonable interpretation of subsection (d) is that it
permits individuals providing lawful services to enter the property without the owner’s
permission in order to contact residents on the property. Accordingly, the Lewises had no power
to decide for their workers whether or not Rivero and Evans were welcome to knock on their
I find that service providers such as Legal Aid have a First Amendment right to engage in
door-to-door outreach until they are legitimately turned away by the property owners or residents
and that Maryland law prohibits farm owners from turning away individuals attempting to speak
with farmworkers housed on their property.
B. Qualified Immunity
The County Defendants argue that qualified immunity shields Officer Kettering from
liability. Cty. Mem. 10–12. Qualified immunity “protects law enforcement agents from federal
claims when they act in objectively reasonable reliance on existing law.” Queen v. Prince
George’s Cty., 188 F. Supp. 3d 535, 541 (D. Md. 2016) (quoting Rockwell v. Mayor & City
Council of Balt., No. RDB-13-3049, 2014 WL 949859, at *8 n.10 (D. Md. Mar. 11, 2014)). It
“balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they
exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and
liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231
(2009). “In particular, . . . qualified immunity protects law officers from ‘bad guesses in gray
areas’ and it ensures that they may be held personally liable only ‘for transgressing bright
lines.’ ” Gomez v. Atkins, 296 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Maciariello v. Sumner, 973
F.2d 295, 298 (4th Cir. 1992)).
Pursuant to this doctrine, police officers are not liable under § 1983 unless “(1) the
allegations, if true, substantiate a violation of a federal statutory or constitutional right and (2)
the right was ‘clearly established’ such that a reasonable person would have known his acts or
omissions violated that right.” Streater v. Wilson, 565 F. App’x 208, 210 (4th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Brockington v. Boykins, 637 F.3d 503, 506 (4th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted)).
A right is clearly established when “the law ‘has been authoritatively decided by the Supreme
Court, the appropriate United States Court of Appeals, or the highest court of the state.” ’ In
addition, a statute’s plain language may also clearly establish the law’s contours. Owens v. Balt.
City State’s Attorney’s Office, 767 F.3d 379, 399 (4th Cir. 2014). The Court may “exercise [its]
sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should
be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson, 555 U.S.
The defendant carries the burden of proving qualified immunity.
Hewitt-Angleberger, No. WMN-11-3284, 2013 WL 4852308, at *3 (D. Md. Sept. 9, 2013)
(quoting Meyers v. Balt. Cty., 713 F.3d 723, 731 (4th Cir. 2013)).
As discussed above, Plaintiffs enjoy the right “to impart information and opinions to
citizens at their homes,” Schneider, 308 U.S. at 152, that permits their presence on private
property until the “master of [the] household” requests that they leave, Martin, 319 U.S. at 141.
Given the Supreme Court’s serial invalidations of even trivial incursions on that right, it is also
clearly established. But the case law does not clearly address who gets to turn away door-to-door
canvassers or solicitors when multiple individuals exercise a degree of dominion over the
property at issue. At first blush, Officer Kettering wrestled with this problem, as the Lewises
owned the property on which their workers lived, but the farmworkers, not the Lewises, were the
targets and intended beneficiaries of Legal Aid’s speech and exercised dominion over their
residences located on the property. But, in reality, Officer Kettering did not confront the “gray
area” in federal law. See Maciariello, 973 F.2d at 298. This is because Maryland law clearly
resolved his dilemma by making clear that workers residing on farmland, not their employers,
have the right to receive or refuse individuals providing lawful services such as Rivero and
Evans, not their employers. Md. Code. Ann., Crim. Law. § 6-406(b), (d)(2)(i). Accordingly,
qualified immunity does not bar the Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim against Officer Kettering.
C. Punitive Damages
The County Defendants also argue that, at the very least, Officer Kettering is not liable
for punitive damages because he did not infringe the Plaintiffs’ rights with actual malice. Cty.
Mem. 12–13. But as Plaintiffs correctly note, Pls.’ Opp’n 20–21, a plaintiff need not prove
actual malice to obtain punitive damages in a § 1983 claim, Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 51–55
(1983) (rejecting actual malice standard). Instead, a jury may elect to award punitive damages
“ ‘to punish [the defendant] for his outrageous conduct and to deter him and others like him from
similar conduct in the future,’ . . . when the defendant’s conduct . . . involves reckless or callous
indifference to the federally protected rights of others.” Id. at 54 (alteration in original) (quoting
Restatement (Second) of Torts §908(1) (1977)).
As Smith notes, a finding that qualified
immunity does not shield an officer from liability also establishes that the officer has acted with
reckless disregard for others’ rights. See id. at 55. Moreover, the Amended Complaint alleges
that Evans tried to show Officer Kettering a Maryland Attorney General Opinion that set forth
the Plaintiffs’ right to enter the property to conduct outreach to migrant farmworkers and that
Officer Kettering refused to read the document. Am. Compl § 41. Plaintiffs have pleaded facts
from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Kettering acted with reckless disregard
towards Rivero’s and Evans’s rights and elect to award punitive damages.
Count II: Maryland Declaration of Rights, Art. 40
Article 40 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights provides that “every citizen of the State
ought to be allowed to speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible
for abuse of that privilege.” Md. Const. Decl. of Rts. art. 40. The Maryland Court of Appeals
deems this right to be “co-extensive with . . . the First Amendment.” DiPino v. Davis, 729 A.2d
354, 367 (Md. 1999). Accordingly, when a defendant violates the First Amendment, she also
runs afoul of Article 40. Plaintiffs allege that Officer Kettering violated Article 40 and that
Montgomery County is vicariously liable for his actions. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 63, 66. The County
Defendants argue that the claim should be dismissed for failure to state cause of action. Cty.
Under Maryland law “a common law action for damages lies when an individual is
deprived of his or her liberty in violation of the Maryland Constitution,” Okwa v. Harper, 757
A.2d 118, 140 (Md. 2000), and Article 40 is among those rights protected by the state tort action,
see DiPino, 729 A.2d at 373. “To prevail under any claim alleging violations of Maryland
constitutional rights [against a police officer]. . . proof must be adduced: 1) [t]hat the
defendant-officer engaged in activity that violated a right protected under the Maryland
Constitution; and 2) [t]he defendant-officer engaged in such activity with actual malice towards
the plaintiff.” Dehn Motor Sales, LLC v. Schultz, 96 A.3d 221, 237 (Md. 2014) (citing Paul
Mark Sandler & James K. Archibald, Pleading Causes of Action in Maryland 538 (5th ed. 2013);
see also Davis v. DiPino, 637 A.2d 476, 479 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1994), rev’d on other grounds,
The County Defendants also argue that the Plaintiffs failed to comply with the Local
Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA)’s notice requirements. Id. at 13–15. But those notice
requirements only apply in actions for “unliquidated damages.” Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud.
Proc. § 5-304(b)(1). Since I hold that Plaintiffs may only pursue equitable relief through their
state-law claim, I need not address the notice issue.
655 A.2d 401 (1995) (tying actual-malice pleading requirement for state constitutional claims
against local officials to Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc § 5-507(a)(1) (then codified at id.
§ 5-321), which grants immunity to municipal officials “acting in a discretionary capacity,
without malice, and within the scope of the official’s employment”).
The statutory subtitle
under which § 5-507 resided until 1997, see 1997 Md. Laws ch. 14, at 386–87, defines “actual
malice” as “ill will or improper motivation,” Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud; see also
Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Zenobia, 601 A.2d 633, 652 (Md. 1992) (defining “actual malice” as
conduct exhibiting “evil motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud”).
Plaintiffs clearly allege that Officer Kettering violated their Article 40 rights, but the
Amended Complaint is devoid of any facts from which ill will or an improper motive on his part
can be inferred. Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot recover damages from Officer Kettering pursuant
to the state law claim or from Montgomery County based on its vicarious liability. But, to the
extent that Plaintiffs seek equitable relief pursuant to the claim, it may proceed.
Count III: Declaratory Judgment
Both the County and Lewis Defendants argue that the declaratory judgment count should
be dismissed for failure to state a claim because the First Amendment does not protect Legal
Aid’s activity. Lewis Mem. 9–10; Cty. Mem. 18. For the same reasons that the Plaintiffs may
pursue their § 1983 claim against Officer Kettering, they may also pursue declaratory relief
against the County Defendants. The Lewis Defendants also argue that the Plaintiffs may not
pursue declaratory relief against them because they are not state actors and therefore could not
have violated the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.
Lewis Mem. 7. Whether or not the
By enacting the Declaratory Judgment Act “Congress enlarged the range of remedies available
in federal courts but did not extend their jurisdiction.” Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co.,
339 U.S. 667, 671 (1970). Thus, for a court to exercise federal-question jurisdiction in a
owners of migrant-farmworker camps can be state actors is an issue of first impression in the
The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause prohibits states from “depriv[ing] any
person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.
And, as previously noted, the Supreme Court has held that freedom of speech is one of the
fundamental liberties that the Due Process Clause shields from state incursion. Gitlow, 268 U.S.
at 666. But at the same time, “[i]ndividual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter
of the [Fourteenth] [A]mendment.” Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 11 (1883). As a result:
until some State law has been passed, or some State action through its officers or
agents has been taken, adverse to the rights of citizens sought to be protected by
the Fourteenth Amendment, no legislation of the United States under said
amendment, nor any proceeding under such legislation, can be called into activity,
for the prohibitions of the amendment are against State laws and acts done under
Id. at 13. Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief to remedy an alleged deprivation of their First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. Thus, state action is a necessary component of the Plaintiffs’
claim against the Lewises.
declaratory-judgment action, plaintiffs must identify a cause of action under which a federal
question would arise “but for the availability of the declaratory judgment procedure.” Franchise
Tax Bd v. Construction Laborers Vacation Tr., 463 U.S. 1, 16 (1983). The Lewis Defendants are
only named in Count III of the Amended Complaint, which seeks declaratory relief. Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 67–75. Count III alleges that the Lewis Defendants violated the Plaintiffs First
Amendment rights, id. at 74, but does not identify a non-declaratory cause of action whereby
Plaintiffs might vindicate their First Amendment rights. But the Lewis Defendants appear to
understand the Plaintiffs’ declaratory-judgment claim to speak to violations that could be
vindicated by a § 1983 action. Accordingly, they argue that the claim should be dismissed
because they are not state actors. Lewis Mem. 7. Since the Lewis Defendants understand the
declaratory-judgment action to be premised upon a § 1983 action that the Plaintiffs could
hypothetically bring against them and which would present a federal question, I will analyze
whether or not the Lewis Defendants could possibly be considered state actors.
But the Supreme Court has recognized some exceptions to the general rule that private
actors cannot infringe others’ constitutional rights and has held that state action is present when a
private entity exercises “power delegated to it by the State which is traditionally associated with
sovereignty.” Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 353 (1974). Based on this
theory of state action, the Court overturned a trespassing conviction of a Jehovah’s Witness who
distributed literature in Chickasaw, Alabama—a suburb of Mobile owned by the Gulf
Shipbuilding Corporation—in violation of the privately-owned town’s non-solicitation policy.
Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, 507–08 (1946).
While recognizing that the company
possessed the town as property, the Court explained that “[o]wnership does not always mean
absolute dominion” and that “[t]he more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for
use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by the statutory and
constitutional rights of those who use it.” Id. at 506. Despite the town’s privately-owned status,
the Court observed that had title to the town “belonged not to a private but to a municipal
corporation,” the First Amendment would have protected the Jehovah’s Wittiness’s activity. Id.
at 504. Accordingly, the town’s ownership status put its residents’ First Amendment rights in
direct conflict with its owners’ property rights. Id. at 509. But since the Alabama town had “all
the characteristics of any other American town” whose residents “as all other citizens . . . must
make decisions which affect the welfare of the community and nation,” the Court determined
that the residents’ need for uncensored information trumped the owners’ property rights. Id. at
For a short time, the Court also extended the Marsh rationale to shopping centers. In
Amalgamated Food Emp. Union Local 590 v. Logan Valley Plaza, Inc., the Court held that a
shopping center could not prohibit a union from picketing outside a non-unionized grocery store
because a shopping center is “the functional equivalent of the business district” in Marsh. 391
U.S. 308, 318–20 (1968). Justice Black, who authored Marsh, dissented, arguing that Marsh
addressed a “very special situation of a company-owned town, complete with streets, alleys,
sewers, stores, residences, and everything else that goes into a town,” whereas, aside from stores,
a shopping center lacks the attributes of a town. Id. at 330–31 (Black, J., dissenting). In Lloyd
Corp. v. Tanner, the Court held that a shopping mall could prohibit opponents of the Vietnam
War from distributing handbills inside the mall, noting that shopping centers do not extend an
“open-ended invitation to the public to use the [facilities] for any and all purposes” but rather “to
do business with the [facility’s] tenants.” 407 U.S. at 564–65, 570. The Court therefore held
that speech that is “directly related” to the property’s purpose enjoys greater protection than
unrelated speech. Id. at 564 (quoting Logan Valley, 391 U.S. at 320 n.9).13 The Court also held
that the balance between speakers’ First Amendment rights and the private owners’ property
rights favors the owners where “adequate alternative avenues for communication exist.” Id. at
567. Although Lloyd technically did not overturn Logan Valley, in Hudgens, the Court formally
held that “the rationale of Logan Valley did not survive the Court’s decision in the Lloyd case”
because the Court’s reasoning in the two cases could not be “squared.” 424 U.S. at 518. Thus,
in Hudgens’s wake, the First Amendment no longer applies to privately-owned shopping centers.
During and in the immediate aftermath of the doctrinal shifts between Logan Valley and
Hudgens, several courts addressed the question of whether the First Amendment offers
protection at migrant-farmworker camps. In Petersen v. Talisman Sugar Corp., the Fifth Circuit
likened a 1,000-person migrant-farmworker camp on the defendant’s plantation to the company
As the Court later hinted, this “directly related” prong of the Lloyd test had an odor of
constitutionally suspect content-based regulation of speech. Hudgens v. N.L.R.B, 424 U.S. 507,
520 & n.8 (1976).
town in Marsh, noting that the camp “consisted of residential areas, streets, a store, eating
facilities, a post office, and even a chapel.” 478 F.2d 73, 82 (5th Cir. 1973). The court also
found that the farmworkers’ nearly constant presence at the plantation denied the
plaintiffs-labor and faith-based organizers—alternative options for communicating with the
workers and that “[b]y using its property as a round-the-clock habitat for its employees,
Talisman ha[d] forfeited the broad right which the owner of sawgrass and marshes alone would
have to enforce strictly a ‘No Trespassers’ policy.” Id. at 82–83. Because the defendant
“located the functional equivalent of a thousand-resident municipality in the midst of its
property,” the court held that the company “must accommodate its property rights to the extent
necessary to allow the free flow of ideas and information between the plaintiffs and the
migrants,” and accordingly allowed the plaintiffs to pursue their § 1983 claim against the private
owner. Id. at 78, 83.
A number of district courts reached the same conclusion but, in some instances, based on
somewhat different lines of reasoning. In Mid-Hudson Legal Servs., Inc. v. G & U, Inc., which
was decided after Hudgens, the Southern District of New York hued closely to the Fifth Circuit’s
reasoning, finding a camp to be the functional equivalent of a company town. 437 F. Supp. 60,
62 (S.D.N.Y. 1977) (“[W]here defendants have established a migrant community with the
hallmarks of a ‘company town’, plaintiffs have a First Amendment right to enter that community
at reasonable times for the purpose of discussing with its inhabitants the living or working
conditions prevalent at the farm.”). Other courts during the Logan Valley-Hudgens interregnum
applied First Amendment protections to migrant-farmworker camps without finding that the
functional-equivalency test had been satisfied. Velez v. Amenta, 370 F. Supp. 1250, 1255 (D.
Conn. 1974) (“Whether or not Camp Windsor qualifies as a ‘company town’ within the criteria
established in Marsh, the Camp is not a family residence or a privately owned island located off
the coast of Connecticut. It is the living quarters for hundreds of free citizens of the country and,
therefore, the premises are more ‘public’ than ‘private.’ ”); Franceschina v. Morgan, 346 F.
Supp. 833, 838–39 (S.D. Ind. 1972) (“The Court believes that it begs the real issue to attempt
comparison of company camps to company towns . . . . [T]he controlling status here is that the
migrants are citizens of the United States, residing in their own homes, and are entitled to be
treated as such. By the same token, their would-be visitors have the constitutional right to visit
with them, subject to the discretion of the migrants and not of the company, its employees, and
political auxiliary.”); Folgueras v. Hassle, 331 F. Supp. 615, 623 (W.D. Mich. 1971) (“Joseph
Hassle opened up portions of his property as the living areas for those working on his farm. . . .
[O]wnership alone [cannot] give him the right to censor the associations, information and
friendships of the migrants living in his camps. His rights of ownership of the land in question
must bend to the countervailing rights of those persons rightfully living on the land.”).14
Two Courts of Appeals have declined to extend First Amendment protections to
migrant-farmworker camps. In Asociacion de Trabajadores Agricolas de Puerto Rico v. Green
Giant Co., a union sought to organize seasonal farmworkers on a farm operated by Green Giant.
518 F.2d 130, 123–32 (3d. Cir. 1975). Based on the Lloyd test, the Third Circuit held that the
speech at issue was not protected because the plaintiffs in that case did not address what, if any,
alternatives were available to the union to communicate with the laborers, leading the court to
rule in Green Giant’s favor. Id. at 140. But the court also indicated that First Amendment
protections would extend to a similarly-situated farm where the employer “improperly . . .
Although the farmworkers in Velez, 370 F. Supp. at 1251, and Franceschina, 346 F. Supp. at
834, were U.S. citizens, the First Amendment “acknowledges [no] distinction between citizens
and resident aliens,” Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding, 344 U.S. 590, 596 n.5 (1953).
isolate[s] [its] workers in an impenetrable fortress” and “mistreats its migrant laborers.” Id. In
Ill. Migrant Council v. Campbell Soup Co., the Seventh Circuit interpreted Hudgens to prohibit
extension of the Marsh doctrine to private property that is not “the functional equivalent” of a
company town. 574 F.2d 374, 376 (7th Cir. 1978) (“It is the Marsh doctrine, unscathed by
Logan Valley and Lloyd, and reaffirmed in Hudgens, that we will now apply.”). Because nearby
fire and police departments served the migrant residences in that case and because the workers
frequently left the farm “to obtain goods and services typically obtainable in a small town,” the
court held that the camp was not functionally equivalent to a company town. Id. at 378.
It is clear from Marsh and from all of the cases that have addressed the applicability of
the First Amendment to migrant-farmworker camps (regardless of the ultimate disposition), that
state action is present where a camp is the functional equivalent of a company town. Thus, I
have no doubt, despite the doctrinal gyrations between Logan Valley and Hudgens, that the First
Amendment would apply to a camp like the one in Petersen, which had housing for more than
1,000 workers and a store, post office, and church, all connected by farm-owned streets. 478
F.2d at 82. Although the Amended Complaint discusses relatively few details about how Lewis
Orchards maintains its migrant-farmworker residences or what services it provides to its
workers, I suspect that the plaintiffs will have difficulty proving that the farm operates as
something akin to a full-fledged company town (though, with further factual support, Plaintiffs
may certainly so argue during summary-judgment practice or at trial). Marsh identified the key
attributes of a town as “residential buildings, streets, a system of sewers, a sewage disposal plant
and a ‘business block’ ” and provision of emergency services. 326 U.S. at 502–03. Lewis
Orchards houses only twelve workers in two residences. Am. Compl. ¶ 34. And the Amended
Complaint does not discuss any on-site store where farmworkers obtain provisions or any other
services provided by the Lewises.
But, respectfully, I do not share the Seventh Circuit’s certainty that Hudgens extinguished
the applicability of the Marsh doctrine outside of the context of a functional equivalent of a
company town. Ill. Migrant Council, 574 F.2d at 376. Although Logan Valley is no longer good
law, it made an important observation about trespass law that neither Lloyd nor Hudgens refuted.
In extending Marsh to shopping centers, the Logan Valley Court held that “the State may not
delegate the power, through the use of its trespass laws, wholly to exclude those members of the
public wishing to exercise their rights on the premises in a manner and for a purpose generally
consonant with the use to which the property is actually put.” 391 U.S. at 319–20. In other
words, the Court identified the relevant state action in Marsh as not only Alabama’s decision to
permit a private company to operate a town but also its statutory empowerment of the company,
through trespass law, to exclude unwanted individuals from its property. Because the shopping
center in that case exercised delegated state power to exclude picketers from its premises, the
Court confronted the same conflict between First Amendment rights and property rights that
Marsh presented. In Lloyd and Hudgens, the Court rejected the notion that a shopping center’s
invitation to the public to conduct business on its property imposed upon it an affirmative
obligation to provide a forum for First Amendment activity. But, as I read Lloyd and Hudgens,
those cases do not foreclose the possibility that, in a different setting, a private entity’s exercise
of delegated state power by invocation of trespass law might sufficiently chill First Amendment
rights such that recognition of state action would be justified, despite the relevant property
lacking all of a company town’s key attributes.
While the balance between First Amendment and property rights may not tip in favor of
noncustomers utilizing commercial property as a forum for speech, it strikes me as far from
unreasonable to suggest that the balance might work out differently when an owner invokes
trespass law to isolate occupants of residential housing on his property from protected First
Amendment activity. The Lewises do more than open their property to mere business invitees,
as the shopping centers did in the Logan Valley line of cases; they employ and house lawful
residents of the United States, who are entitled to unfettered exchange of information just as
much as any other individual in a community. The issue raised by the migrant-farmworker camp
is not whether farm owners must create a forum for speech, but whether farmworkers forfeit their
constitutional rights by living on their employer’s premises.
As the Court recognized in Martin:
For centuries it has been a common practice in this and other countries for persons
not specifically invited to go from home to home and knock on doors or ring
doorbells to communicate ideas to the occupants or to invite them to political,
religious, or other kinds of public meetings. Whether such visiting shall be
permitted has in general been deemed to depend upon the will of the individual
master of each household, and not upon the determination of the community.
319 U.S. at 141. Although residential walkways and doorstoops are private property, First
Amendment case law treats them as quasi-public vestibules leading to the public square. They
are the capillaries in a larger vascular system through which speech flows; without them, public
discourse would be starved of oxygen. If the migrant farmworkers on Lewis Orchards lived in
offsite housing, the First Amendment indisputably would protect these channels of
communication between them and the outside world, subject only to the workers’ personal veto.
A farm owner should not be able to wield his property rights through trespass law to completely
suppress the exchange of ideas and information that might benefit the workers he houses and,
potentially, the public as a whole.
That said, and as Lloyd and Hudgens make clear, the owners’ property rights cannot be
ignored in the act of judicial balancing. The gravest risk to farmworkers’ rights exists where
owners “isolate the[ir] workers in an impenetrable fortress,” Green Giant, 518 F.2d at 140, or
confine them to “a private island or an enclave existing without the full brea[d]th and vitality of
federal constitutional and statutory protection,” Folgueras, 331 F. Supp. at 621 (quoting Mich.
Att’y Gen. Op. No. 4727, at 12 (Apr. 13, 1971)). Based on Lloyd, courts that have wrestled with
this issue have held that migrant farmworkers’ First Amendment rights must yield to the farm
owner’s property rights where “alternative avenues” of communication are available. Green
Giant, 518 F.2d at 138; Petersen, 478 F.2d at 82. Where reasonable opportunities exist for
speakers to effectively share information with farmworkers housed on farm property, even if
door-to-door canvassing would be a superior method of communication, then the balance
between migrant farmworkers’ First Amendment rights and the farm owner’s property rights
favors the owner.15
Because I find that the Amended Complaint sufficiently pleads facts from which the
potential for state action can be inferred, I will not dismiss the Lewis Defendants from the case.
Going forward, Plaintiffs may prove that the Lewis Defendants are state actors either by
providing evidence that Lewis Orchards operates as the functional equivalent of a company town
It bears mentioning, that, as H-2A visaholders, the farmworkers at Lewis Orchards lead lives
especially tethered to their employer. The H-2A program allows employers to petition the
Secretary of Labor for permission to bring foreign workers to the United States to work in
industries lacking “sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified” to perform needed
labor and where importation of labor supply “will not adversely affect the wages and working
conditions of workers in the United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1188(a)(1)(A)–(B). As a condition of
sponsoring foreign workers, the employer must provide housing (onsite or elsewhere) to the
workers, meals or cooking facilities, and transportation from and back to the workers’ countries
of origin. Id. § 1188(c)(4); 20 C.F.R. § 655.122(g), (h).
or by proving that they have no alternative avenues for reasonably effectively communicating
their message to the migrant farmworkers housed at Lewis Orchards.
In sum, the Court possesses jurisdiction over this matter because the County Defendants’
voluntary cessation of their allegedly illegal conduct does not moot the case and controversy
alleged in the Amended Complaint and because Plaintiffs have pleaded a pattern of alleged
constitutional violations that they appear likely to continue to encounter based on their
continuous efforts to conduct outreach to migrant farmworkers and the Defendants’ denial that
the First Amendment has any application to the facts of this case. The Amended Complaint
pleads facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that the Lewises summoned the police in
order to prevent Rivero and Evans from contacting their employees; that the Trespassing
Notifications issued by Officer Kettering barred Rivero and Evans from visiting migrant
farmworkers at the Lewis Orchards residences; that Officer Kettering was aware that Rivero and
Evans were on the property with the purpose of contacting migrant farmworkers; and that the
Lewis Defendants have taken actions to prevent their employees from having contact with the
Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim may proceed against Officer Kettering in his individual
capacity because they have successfully pleaded that he violated their clearly established federal
right to engage in door-to-door solicitation or canvassing.
While Plaintiffs may pursue a
state-constitutional tort in order to obtain injunctive relief, they may not pursue damages through
that vehicle because they have not pleaded facts that suggest that Officer Kettering acted with
actual malice. Finally, Plaintiffs may pursue declaratory relief against all of the Defendants
because, based on the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint, I am persuaded that Plaintiffs
should have an opportunity to demonstrate that the Lewis Defendants were state actors.
A separate Order follows.
Date: May 2, 2017
Paul W. Grimm
United States District Judge
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