Fla. man can’t get break on city’s parking laws

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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You’d better park your pickup truck in a garage if you live in Coral Gables, Fla. And forget about driving to visit your friends anywhere in the city between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. — unless there’s a spot in a garage.

A state appeals court has upheld the city’s zoning ordinances, which bar drivers of certain vehicles from parking on residential streets or in front of homes and from other city streets during certain hours, saying the city’s laws do not infringe on First Amendment free-association rights.

The court ruled 6-2, against a Florida attorney who challenged his fine, finding the laws further the city’s rational interests in aesthetics.

One provision of the city’s code prohibits the parking of pickup trucks outside homes or on public streets in residential areas. Another provision prohibits the parking of trucks, trailersor commercial or recreational vehicles on the streets or in other public places between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Lowell Joseph Kuvin challenged the constitutionality of these ordinances after receiving citations under the second ordinance for parking his pickup truck in front of the house he rented. The house did not have a garage.

In February 2003, Kuvin, then studying for the Law School Aptitude Test, wrote a letter to the city attorney of Coral Gables, explaining his situation — that he had a pickup truck that he couldn’t park in front of his home because of the city ordinances.

Kuvin requested a hearing to contest his ticket. He was found guilty and ordered to pay a $50 fine and $75 in court costs.

Instead of paying, Kuvin filed a lawsuit, alleging a variety of constitutional violations. Among his claims was that the ordinances infringed on his free-association rights. After a Florida trial court ruled against him, Kuvin appealed to the Court of Appeals of Florida, Third District. Initially, in August 2007, a three-judge panel ruled in his favor. The majority wrote that “the City has unconstitutionally crossed the line into an impermissible interference with the personal rights of its residents.”

The city appealed to the third district for en banc, or full-panel, review. The case remained in abeyance for several years. In the meantime, Kuvin earned his law degree from St. Thomas School of Law in Miami and passed the Florida Bar exam.

Kuvin asserted that the laws infringed on his right to association because it limited him from visiting his friends at their homes.

On Aug. 25, the full panel ruled 6-2 in favor of Coral Gables in Kuvin v. City of Coral Gables. Writing for the majority, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg rejected Kuvin’s free-association claims. She cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in City of Dallas v. Stanglin (1989), in which the Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to a law limiting minors’ access to dance halls. In that opinion, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that “it is possible to find some kernel of expression in almost every activity a person undertakes … but such a kernel is not sufficient to bring the activity within the protection of the First Amendment.”

Rothenberg cited Stanglin to emphasize that Kuvin’s association claims weren’t expressive enough to warrant First Amendment protection.

The majority said that “Kuvin’s associations are not being restricted” and “[h]e must simply garage the vehicle at night.”

Because the majority found that there was no valid association claim in Kuvin’s case, it proceeded to evaluate the ordinances under what in legal circles is known as the “rational basis standard.” Under this standard, a law is considered constitutional unless it is considered arbitrary and unreasonable.

The city argued that it had a rational interest in preserving aesthetics in prohibiting trucks on public streets. The majority agreed, writing that “the City seeks to preserve … the residential character of the City.”

Judge Angel A. Cortinas wrote a scathing dissent in which he accused the majority and the city of “elitism.” He wrote in strong language that the Ford F-150 truck “is not an aberrant vehicle cherished by rednecks and lowlifes, as the tone of the majority opinion suggests.”

“It’s all about elitism,” Kuvin told the First Amendment Center Online in an interview. “It is also arrogance on the part of the city that they wouldn’t try to work this out with me as I requested years ago.”

He said the law definitely infringed on his free-association rights, and insisted the fight was far from over. “I will appeal this case to the Florida Supreme Court,” Kuvin vowed.

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