Lawsuit Against Occupy Chattanooga Dropped; Occupiers Evicted

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Hamilton County officials on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit they filed against Occupy Chattanooga and nine individual protesters. The motion came on the same day that deputies evicted the group’s encampment.
The suit, filed in January, asked the court to declare that the county’s policies for use of public properties and grounds were constitutional. It also asked the judge to order the protesters to pay court costs.
The protesters asked that the case be dismissed, arguing that local governments are not allowed to use the federal courts for rulings on the validity of their ordinances.
In the protesters’ motion for dismissal, Occupy Chattanooga is described as “part of a nationwide and international movement of demonstrations aimed at calling attention to income inequality and irresponsible actions on the part of wealthy corporate actors.”
According to the court filings, protesters began camping out on the courthouse lawn near the beginning of November.
On Jan. 4, the Hamilton County Commission adopted a set of rules for the use of county property, including the courthouse lawn. It includes prohibitions on tables, chairs, grills and open fires, except under certain circumstances, and prohibitions on tents anywhere not designated as a campsite.
According to the county’s complaint, “The grounds of the Courthouse are carefully maintained and kept so as to preserve the property in an attractive and intact condition, readily available to all people who wish to see and enjoy it by their presence.”
The suit claims the rules for use of the grounds are “content-neutral;” that is, they apply equally to everyone and are not intended to single out Occupy protesters because of their political beliefs.
The rules do not establish any type of curfew for the property.
In asking the court to dismiss the case, attorneys for the protesters state, “If a local government could march into court whenever it passed a law to sue anyone potentially affected by a law in order to get a judgment of the law’s validity, the consequences would be troubling for the courts, the parties, and the administration of justice.”
Although attorneys for the county disagreed, on Monday they filed to dismiss the suit.
That motion stated that a change in circumstances made the lawsuit moot but did not say what those circumstances were.
In an interview on Tuesday, County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said the motion referred to the “relocation” of protesters’ tents. Deputies moved the tents to the adjacent sidewalk on Monday.
Protester Beth Foster said in an interview that members of Occupy Chattanooga will continue to have a presence near the courthouse but they are still working out the details.
Taylor said he would not speculate on what the county would do if protesters moved their tents back.
In Nashville on Tuesday, police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said that Occupy protester Christopher Humphrey was arrested for failure to appear in court for a trespassing charge unrelated to his protest activities.
Humphrey has been challenging a new state law intended to evict protesters from their camp on War Memorial Plaza near the state Capitol by spending several nights there. The law prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it.
Mumford said Humphrey had been charged with trespassing somewhere other than the plaza.

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