Last week, the Eastern District of Michigan granted a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order filed by Dalton & Tomich on behalf of Planet Aid, a nonprofit organization that operates clothing and shoe donation collection bins. Under the restraining order, Ypsilanti Township is prohibited from enforcing a decades-old ordinance to completely prohibit donation bins in the Township. The decision has been widely reported, making headlines both locally and across the country, including the Washington Post.
Planet Aid has operated 16 donation bins at various locations in Ypsilanti Township without issue for the last 7 years. In early April, Township officials informed Planet Aid they planned to ban all donation bins in the Township simply because they blieved there were too many bins. Planet Aid contacted the Township to propose a mutual compromise whereby donation bins would be allowed but subject to certain regulation and restrictions the Township deemed appropriate. However, Township officials were adamant they were not interested in such a compromise and instead planned to fully enforce a total prohibition on donation bins.
When it was clear that a compromise with the Township was not possible, Planet Aid filed a federal lawsuit, alleging the Township’s actions violate numerous provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment Free Speech Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, and the dormant Commerce Clause. Planet Aid also filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order requesting the Court prohibit the Township from forcing Planet Aid, or any other donation bin operators, to remove their donation bins in the Township.
The Court granted Planet Aid’s Motion, finding that Planet Aid was likely to succeed on the merits of its First Amendment free speech claim. As the Court noted, operating donation bins for the purpose of soliciting and collecting charitable donations is an activity protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, the Court found that the Township’s Ordinance likely fails strict scrutiny review, as a complete ban on donation bins is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest and there are less restrictive ways to achieve the Township’s goals.
The Court’s decision comes at a critical juncture, as numerous municipalities in Michigan and nationwide have recently been working to adopt and enforce similar bans on donation bins. Hopefully, this decision will serve to deter municipalities from adopting similarly discriminatory ordinances.
Dalton & Tomich attorneys have extensive experience representing individuals and organizations that have been subject to a variety of discriminatory treatment by local governmental entities. If you believe that you or your organization has experienced similar discrimination, please contact us to discuss your matter.