Freedom From Religion Foundation Sues City of Rancho Cucamonga

There was an atheist billboard that was recently taken down in the city of Rancho Cucamonga in California:

At first, it was thought that city officials forced General Outdoor Advertising to take down the ad.

Then city officials said they had nothing to do with it.

Now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation says otherwise. They are suing the city:

The Foundation had prepaid for the board and contracted for a two-month run beginning in mid-November. The Board had been up for less than a week when it was removed at the apparent instigation of Linda Daniels, Rancho Cucamonga Development Director.

Their lawsuit (PDF) says the following:

According to FFRF:

The Foundation is seeking reasonable compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

The lawsuit is being filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California…

If they can prove Daniels had something to do with this, it should be an open/shut case, yes?

  • Vincent

    My first thought when the story came out the city might not have been behind it was maybe one person on the city counsel commented independently.
    It is still entirely possible this Daniels person took it upon herself, but if she said “Hi, I’m City Counselwoman Daniels calling to request you to remove that sign” well then she’s acting in her official capacity with apparent authority. Whether or not she had the authority to take that action the city is still at fault. But if she said “hi, this is Linda Daniels, lots of people are offended so take down the sign” she could have been acting as a private citizen. The billboard company then would be to blame – even if they acted because they knew who Linda Daniels was.
    The proof gets complicated and it’s probably going to be less costly for the city to settle.

  • Miko

    Depending how the Summum case comes out, it could become quite complicated (not directly, but because it would encourage the city to try an equally tortured argument).

    The 9th Circuit should probably support FFRF, but they may run into trouble if it goes national, as the Supreme Court has 5 to 7 votes (depending on issue) typically committed to expanding government powers without regard to explicit Constitutional restrictions.

    One thing strongly in our favor is that the city is denying involvement. If FFRF can demonstrate this claim is false, the city will probably have trouble switching over to a government speech vs. personal speech angle, or a commerce regulation argument, etc. On the other hand, if it comes down to he-said-she-said, we’re certain to lose.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    If Linda Daniels did nothing more than contact the billboard company and let them know the city was receiving complaints, FFRF should win the lawsuit. She was acting as an agent of the City – if she were calling the company to voice a complaint as a private citizen the only complaint she could voice would have been her own, not the callers to the City. A ‘reasonable person’ receiving such a call would conclude that the city desired the company to take action on the complaints. There’s no other reason to pass the complaints along. The city’s only course of action to maintain neutrality would have been to tell callers the billboard belonged to a private company and to take it up with them.

  • http://notreallyalice.wordpress.com Alice

    For the curious, here’s the Federal code cited in the lawsuit: 42 USC 1983: Civil action for deprivation of rights: “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…”

    Makes you wonder if this can be used against the creators of CA Prop 8…

  • Ben

    Bravo! When they get done with the saps in Rancho Cucamonga, maybe they can take on this guy’s case!

    http://gothamist.com/2008/08/27/did_police_eject_a_man_from_yankee.php

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    The legal theory underlying the lawsuit is good — if Daniels acted in her official capacity as an officer of the City of Rancho Cucamonga as alleged, that is an Establishment Clause violation.

    But the case would not be “open and shut.” The lawsuit prays for damages and attorney’s fees. If you want to collect damages and fees or money of any kind from a public entity, you are required to present a tort claim to the entity first. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 910 et. seq. (a state law, but one which is applicable in § 1983 cases in Federal Court by way of the “failure to exhaust all administrative remedies” defense). There are no allegations of tort claims being presented here, and there has not been enough time for that to happen anyway.

    FFRF can get their declaration of the court that what Daniels did violated the Constitution. Which is what’s really important here. But it can’t get any money.

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  • http://www.mindblink.org Linda

    Is this a deja vu post? I could have sworn I saw this here a few days ago…

  • Stephen P

    On the other hand, if it comes down to he-said-she-said, we’re certain to lose.

    Not necessarily. There is a reporter who states that Daniels admitted asking for the sign to be removed. And if the person from the advertising company who spoke to Daniels is called to testify and states that Daniels asked for the sign to be removed, then it looks like a pretty strong case.


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