Decided: February 21, 2013
The issue in the case was whether a municipal ordinance, which prohibits individuals form soliciting immediate donations near two streets that run through the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia, unconstitutionally restrict the free speech of individuals who regularly beg on the Downtown Mall. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred by resolving this issue at the pleadings stage, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
The Court first finds that appellants have standing to bring the First Amendment challenge to the Ordinance. The Supreme Court has held that solicitation of “charitable contributions” is protected speech under the First Amendment. The appellants complaint generally alleges that Appellants regularly beg on the Downtown Mall and the Ordinance may constitute a cognizable injury to Appellants merely by interfering with or creating the “need to plan the substance and placement of” their speech. The Court then finds that the Downtown Mall is a traditional public forum. “Because Appellants seek to engage in protected speech in a traditional public forum, the government’s power to regulate that speech is limited, though not foreclosed. The government may impose reasonable content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions that are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.”
The ordinance plainly prohibits solicitations that request immediate donations of things of value, but based on the record, the Court cannot determine the government’s reasons for enacting the Ordinance or assess the strength of its underlying concerns. The Fourth Circuit also notes that the district court erred by impermissible reaching outside the pleadings by watching video archives at the pleadings stage in order to make findings of fact.