942 F.Supp. 665 (D.D.C. 1996), C. A. 95-2050, Hutchins v. District of Columbia

Docket Nº:C. A. 95-2050
Citation:942 F.Supp. 665
Party Name:Hutchins v. District of Columbia
Case Date:October 29, 1996
Court:United States District Courts, District of Columbia
 
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942 F.Supp. 665 (D.D.C. 1996)

Tiana HUTCHINS, et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 95-2050.

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Oct. 29, 1996

Page 666

Robert Plotkin, Patricia Hurst, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, Washington, DC, for plaintiffs.

Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union Fund, Washington, DC.

Marceline Alexander, Assistant Corporation Counsel, D.C., Washington, DC, for District of Columbia.

Steven J. Rosenbaum, Thomas W. Krause, Jason Levine, Covington & Burling, Washington, DC, for amicus American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities.

Kimberly N. Tarver, Assistant United States Attorney, Washington, DC, for amicus U.S.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SULLIVAN, District Judge.

I.

Plaintiffs, a group of minors, parents, and a private business, commenced this action against the District of Columbia ("District") to challenge the constitutionality of the Juvenile Curfew Act of 1995 ("curfew law"). 1 D.C.Code Ann. § 6-2182(5). Plaintiffs

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seek to restrain the District from enforcing the curfew and advance four principal arguments in support of the declaratory and injunctive relief they seek: (1) the curfew law violates the minors' Fifth Amendment equal protection and due process rights to free movement; 2 (2) the curfew law violates the parents' Fifth Amendment due process rights to exercise parental discretion and control over their children; (3) the curfew law is overbroad and unconstitutionally vague in violation of the First Amendment; and (4) the curfew law violates the minors' Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. 3 Moreover, the commercial plaintiff, a movie theater with a significant portion of its patrons under the age of seventeen, complains that the curfew law harms its business because many of the theater's screenings end after or shortly before the curfew hour, thus making it near impossible for its young patrons to patronize the theater. The minor plaintiffs' declarations poignantly describe the educational and other activities with which the curfew law interferes. 4

The District argues that, applying either the rational basis test or the strict scrutiny test, the curfew law is, in either case, constitutional because it is not vague and overbroad and does not infringe upon any due process or fundamental rights of any of the plaintiffs. Moreover, the District claims that the law does not violate equal protection guarantees because it is narrowly tailored to serve the District's compelling interest in: (1) protecting children from becoming victims or perpetrators of crime; (2) assisting parents to exercise their supervisory responsibility over minors; and (3) protecting all persons

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from what it contends are the dangers posed by unsupervised minors out both late at night and during the early morning hours.

Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The United States Department of Justice 5 and The American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities (the "amici") have filed amicus curiae briefs supporting the District's argument that the curfew law is constitutional. Upon consideration of the undisputed facts, relevant statutory and case law, and the record herein, the Court holds that the curfew law is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection and due process rights of the minor plaintiffs and the due process rights of their parents. The curfew law is not narrowly tailored to further the compelling interests of the District in protecting District residents. Accordingly, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and defendant's motion for summary judgment is DENIED for the reasons set forth herein.

II.

On June 20, 1995, the Council of the District of Columbia ("City Council") enacted the curfew law, which the Mayor approved on July 6, 1995. The curfew law took effect, after Congressional review, on September 20, 1995; however, the record does not show that any person or commercial establishment has been prosecuted for violating any provision of this law. 6 Pursuant to the curfew law, persons under seventeen years of age commit an offense if they

[remain] in any public place or on the premises of any establishment within the District of Columbia after 11:00 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday nights (12:01 a.m. during the months of July and August), or after 12:01 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

D.C.Code Ann. § 6-2182(1). The curfew stays in effect until 6:00 a.m. every morning. Id.

Indeed, a curfew violation occurs even if the minor is accompanied by a responsible adult who is under age twenty-one and not the minor's parent. 7 Id. Thus, parents can not authorize any responsible person under age twenty-one to chaperone their minor children in a public place during curfew hours. The law also prohibits any person under eighteen years of age who has a valid District of Columbia driver's license from operating a motor vehicle in the District of Columbia after midnight. Id.; see also D.C.Code Ann. § 40-301(g).

In a curfew law prosecution, a pedestrian minor or motorist may assert as a defense that (s)he was:

(1) accompanied by a parent;

(2) on an errand at the parent or guardian's direction without any detour or stop;

(3) in a motor vehicle, train or bus involved in interstate travel;

(4) engaged in employment activity pursuant to "An Act To Regulate The Employment of Minors Within the District of Columbia," approved May 29, 1978, 45

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Stat. 998, D.C.Code Ann. § 36-501 et seq., or going to, or returning home from, an employment activity, without any detour or stop;

(5) involved in an emergency;

(6) on the sidewalk abutting his or her house or the next-door neighbor's house and the next-door neighbor has not complained about the minor's presence;

(7) attending an "official school, religious, or other recreational activity" sponsored by the District of Columbia, a civic organization, or another similar entity "that takes responsibility for the minor," or going to, or returning home from, such an activity; or

(8) exercising First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

D.C.Code Ann. § 6-2183(b)(1)(A)-(H).

A police officer, who "reasonably believes" that a person is a minor violating the curfew law, is authorized to ask that person's age and the reason for his or her presence in a public place after curfew. Id. § 6-2183(c)(1). Based on the person's response and other "circumstances" that are undefined in the curfew law, the police officer is then authorized by the curfew law to take the person into custody and transport him or her to the nearest police station. Id. § 6-2183(c)(2). The person then is held in the custody of the Family Services Administration until 6:00 a.m., unless his or her parent or other adult acting in loco parentis escorts the minor home. Id. § 6-2183(c)(3).

A person under the age of eighteen who violates the curfew law by operating a motor vehicle after midnight may have his or her driving privileges suspended for up to one year. D.C.Code Ann. § 40-301(g). A minor who violates the curfew law shall be adjudicated in the District of Columbia Superior Court. That court may order the minor to perform up to twenty-five hours of community service. Id. § 6-2183(d)(4). A parent commits a curfew law offense if he or she "knowingly permits or by insufficient control allows" his or her minor child to violate the curfew law. Id. § 6-2183(a)(2). Such offenses are punishable by fines of up to $500, or community service. A parent may also be required by the curfew law to take parenting classes. Id. § 6-2183(d)(1), (2).

Moreover, the owner, operator, or any employee of an establishment commits a curfew law offense if he or she knowingly permits or, by insufficient control, allows a minor to remain in any public place or on the premises of that establishment during curfew hours. Id. § 6-2183(a)(3). It is a valid defense to prosecution that the owner, operator, or employee promptly notified the police department "that a minor was present on the premises of the establishment during curfew hours and refused to leave." Id. § 6-2183(b)(2). A violation of this provision of the law is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500. Id. § 6-2183(d)(1).

III.

Plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the District's curfew law on a number of grounds, including violation of their equal protection and due process rights. 8 An equal protection challenge requires that the Court first determine whether the curfew law "operates to the disadvantage of some suspect class or impinges upon a fundamental right explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution, thereby requiring strict judicial scrutiny." 9 San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 17, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1288, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973);

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see also Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 216-17, 102 S.Ct. 2382, 2394-95, 72 L.Ed.2d 786 (1982). Plaintiffs argue that the District, through the curfew law, fails to accord the same "equal protection of the laws" to minors under the age of seventeen as is accorded to those persons seventeen and older. Specifically, the plaintiffs contend that the curfew law deprives only members of the former group of their fundamental right to free movement to participate in legitimate nocturnal activities and, therefore, must be reviewed by the Court under the strict scrutiny standard. Moreover, plaintiffs maintain that the curfew law violates the Fifth Amendment due process rights of all parents and guardians to make their own private decisions about how to raise their children in a responsible manner.

Although the District maintains that the curfew law would survive...

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