4/19/2012Rhode Island: ACLU Sues Over Parking Ticket Discrimination
Narragansett, Rhode Island sued for selectively issuing parking tickets to university students.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the town of Narragansett for selectively issuing parking tickets against University of Rhode Island students. Caitlin Dowd, Grace Rignanese and Jenessa Redfern study at URI's college of pharmacy graduate program nine months out of the year. In September, they moved into a rented home on Narragansett Avenue where they parked their cars on the street overnight. This set up a conflict with the town.
The town council restricted parking on that street to holders of valid parking permits on August 22, so the students obtained permits when they moved in. Those permits do not expire until May 22, 2012. By November, however, the Narragansett Police Department began ticketing the students because they were not "permanent residents." The students feel the town is trying to push them out.
"The new parking ordinance is upsetting to us because it is taking away a right, a right that everyone else on our street has," plaintiff Caitlin Dowd said in a statement. "We are hurt because we have done nothing to warrant this discrimination against us. My roommates and I love this town, we love living in Narragansett and care about this community, but it is really frustrating that the town refuses to acknowledge our rights or even consider us members of the community."
Their lawsuit argues that the town violated due process when it arbitrarily redefined the length of residency requirement to make the students' permit retroactively invalid. None of the permit holders were notified of the change or given an opportunity to challenge the decision. The ACLU is asking a superior court judge to refund the fines paid by the students and to prohibit the town from arbitrarily enforcing its ordinance.
"The overnight parking ordinance was never amended by the town council and the students were never given a hearing before their eligibility for parking permits was arbitrarily taken away," ACLU volunteer attorney H. Jefferson Melish said. "They are entitled to a vindication of their rights."
Narragansett has a history of targeting university students. Last year, the courts upheld a town policy of attaching a 10 inch by 14 inch orange "nuisance" sticker to the door of rented student homes accused of "unruly gatherings." The stickers cannot be removed until the end of the school year.