Waldrop v. City of Johnson City

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Eastern District of Tennessee
Citation503 F.Supp.3d 570
Docket NumberNo. 2:19-CV-00103-JRG-CRW,2:19-CV-00103-JRG-CRW
Parties Jeremiah WALDROP et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF JOHNSON CITY, TENNESSEE, Defendant.
Decision Date30 November 2020

503 F.Supp.3d 570

Jeremiah WALDROP et al., Plaintiffs,

No. 2:19-CV-00103-JRG-CRW

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, at Greeneville.

Filed November 30, 2020

503 F.Supp.3d 575

David J. Markese, Pro Hac Vice, Frederick H. Nelson, Pro Hac Vice, American Liberties Institute, Orlando, FL, Kristin Fecteau Mosher, Aubrey Givens & Associates, Madison, TN, for Plaintiffs.

K. Erickson Herrin, Herrin, Booze & McPeak, Johnson City, TN, Thomas J. Garland, Jr., Milligan & Coleman, Greeneville, TN, for Defendant.



This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction [Doc. 38], the Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts [Doc. 78], Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 86], Defendant's Memorandum Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 87], Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 89], Plaintiffs' Statement of Undisputed Facts [Doc. 90], Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 91], Defendant's Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 97], Defendant's Response to Plaintiffs' Statement of Undisputed Facts [Doc. 98], and Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 99]. For the reasons herein, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiffs' motions.


In 2018, Defendant City of Johnson City, Tennessee, granted TriPrideTN, Inc., a special-event permit under its Special Event Policy, authorizing TriPride to hold its inaugural parade and festival in downtown Johnson City. [Joint Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 1–4, 9–12; Keenan Dep., Doc. 87-6, at 27:19–21; see Chief Turner Decl., Doc. 87-3, ¶ 6; First Captain Rice Dep., Doc. 90-6, at 92:4–5]. The purpose of the parade and festival was to promote the inclusion of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning community. [Lyon Dep., Doc. 87-5, at 176:24–25, 177:1]. Johnson City's Special Event Policy states, in part, that "[i]t is the goal of the Special Event Review Committee to assist event organizers in planning safe and successful events that create a minimal impact on the communities surrounding the events." [Joint Undisputed Facts ¶ 4]. The Special Event Review Committee consists of various local officials, including law enforcement officers, fire-prevention officers, traffic engineers, public works specialists, and city attorneys. [Keenan Dep. at 108:1–6; Sergeant Tallmadge Dep., Doc. 87-15, at 66:8–22].

The Johnson City Police Department was in charge of security for TriPride's parade and festival. [Chief Turner Decl. ¶ 5; Sergeant Tallmadge Decl., Doc. 87-2, ¶ 4]. Although the parade and festival were free of charge and open to any member of the public who passed through a security checkpoint, [Joint Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 15–19], the Special Event Review Committee decided to allow TriPride to "control who could enter the Festival," [Chief Turner Decl. ¶ 9], after the Johnson City Police Department had learned of credible threats against TriPride, [id. ¶¶ 4–8; Second

503 F.Supp.3d 576

Captain Rice Dep., Doc. 90-9, at 19:11–18].1 In an effort to mitigate these threats, the Johnson City Police Department worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. [Chief Turner Decl. ¶ 5]. The Johnson City Police Department also erected a designated "protest area," though it was located outside the festival's event area, in the hope that protestors would use that area. [First Captain Rice Dep. at 92:2–17; Joint Undisputed Facts ¶ 21]. In addition, the Special Event Review Committee authorized street closures for the parade, which took place on September 15, 2018, [Joint Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 2, 9, 15–19], with a combined law-enforcement presence of more than two hundred officers and agents from the Johnson City Police Department, the TBI, and the FBI, [Chief Turner Decl. ¶ 5].

On that day, the festival began once the parade ended and was held in Founders Park, "a City park owned and operated by Johnson City." [Joint Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 13, 18–19, 27]. The "event area" for the festival, however, included not only Founders Park but also the peripheral public sidewalks and streets surrounding the park. [Id. ¶¶ 18–19, 27]. The festival drew about 10,000 people, [Lyon Dep., Doc. 97-2, at 222:22–24], and as it was underway, Plaintiff Phillip Self entered Founders Park, where he spoke to festival goers and distributed religious materials to them without incident. [Joint Undisputed Facts ¶ 25].

But at some point, Mr. Self and three of his companions—including Plaintiff Jeremiah Waldrop, who often preaches on street corners and at festivals, [Joint Undisputed Facts ¶ 22; Waldrop Dep., Doc. 87-16, at 29:6–14]—appear to have caused a disturbance inside or around Founders Park, [Lyon Dep., Doc. 87-18, at 85:1–15]. According to Kenn Lyon, an affiliate of TriPride and one of the festival's organizers, Mr. Self, Mr. Waldrop, and their companions ("Plaintiffs") were blocking the entrance to the park while preaching to festival goers, prompting another TriPride affiliate, George Chamoun, to summon police officers. [Id. ]. The officers moved Plaintiffs away from the entrance to a nearby sidewalk. [Id. ; Def.'s Answers to Req. for Admis., Doc. 90-14, ¶ 15; First Captain Rice Dep. at 22:19–25, 23:1–9].

After settling on the sidewalk, Plaintiffs used an amplification system and continued to preach—though their preaching involved the use of slurs and animadversions. [Video: TriPride Festival (on file with the Court)]. While preaching from the sidewalk, they remained inside the security checkpoint and within the festival's event area—an area that extended to the adjoining street, Commerce Street, which was closed for the festival, [First Captain Rice Dep. at 22:19–25, 23:1–9; Captain Church Dep., Doc. 87-4, at 74:14–25]—and they had interactions and confrontations with festival goers, drawing the presence of police officers, [Video: TriPride Festival; Captain Church Dep. at 74:24–25].

At that point, Plaintiffs again captured the attention of Mr. Chamoun, who insisted that Plaintiffs were bothering the festival goers and urged officers to remove them outright from the festival's event area, [First Captain Rice Dep. at 19:6–12; First Captain Rice Dep., Doc. 87-10, at 21:15–21], but the officers declined to do so, [First Captain Rice Dep., Doc. 90-6, at

503 F.Supp.3d 577

19:13–15, 22:1–14; Lyon Dep., Doc. 87-18, at 85:16–19]. In the officers' view, Plaintiffs, from the sidewalk, were not interfering with the events going on in Founders Park or with TriPride's expressive message. [First Captain Rice Dep., Doc. 90-6, at 22:8–14; Church Dep. at 78:7–17]. When Plaintiffs, however, asked one of the officers if they would be arrested if they re-entered Founders Park, the officer said that they would be. [Video: TriPride Festival; Lieutenant Peters Dep., Doc. 87-9, at 40:18–20]. Plaintiffs remained on the sidewalk, where they continued preaching for several hours without re-entering the park. [Church Dep. at 78:18–22; Self Dep., Doc. 98-8, at 66:5–12].

Plaintiffs have now filed suit in this Court against Johnson City under 42 U.S.C § 1983, alleging that Johnson City is municipally liable because its police officers, while acting in their official capacities, violated their rights under the United States Constitution. More specifically, Plaintiffs maintain that the officers infringed their constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion by enforcing Johnson City's Special Event Policy in a way that "forc[ed] [them] to move out of a traditional public forum during Special Events." [Am. Compl., Doc. 72, ¶¶ 163, 180]. In addition to these claims under the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause and Free Exercise Clause, Plaintiffs assert that the officers violated their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, alleging that they "enforce speech restrictions in an ad hoc , arbitrary, and discriminatory manner." [Id. ¶ 189]. And lastly, Plaintiffs also allege that the officers violated the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Tennessee Code Annotated § 4-1-407. [Id. ¶¶ 197–212].

In bringing these claims, Plaintiffs also moved for a preliminary injunction, to enjoin Johnson City from enforcing its Special Event Policy. [Pls.' Mot. Prelim. Inj., Doc. 38]. In response to Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, the Court held a hearing, after which it provided the parties with notice of its intent, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a)(2), to advance and consolidate the trial on the merits with the hearing, though it first permitted the parties to engage in limited discovery. [Order, Doc. 48, at 1–3]. Having completed discovery, the parties have now filed cross motions for summary judgment, which the Court has carefully considered and is prepared to rule on.


Summary judgment is proper when the moving party shows, or "point[s] out to the district court," Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), that the record—the admissions, affidavits, answers to...

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