Motorcyclists thrown out of the Florida State Fair because they wore their love of America and Christianity on their sleeve must amend their lawsuit, a federal judge ruled.
Mark Denico, Thomas Griswold Jr., Timothy Newberry and Dennis Walsted had arrived at the Florida State Fair on Feb. 7, 2010. Denico and Griswold are members of the U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club, and were wearing patches on their motorcycle vests showing an American flag, an eagle and the word “Liberty.” Newberry and Walsted belong to the Spirit Riders Motorcycle Ministry, and their patches depicted a crucifix, a crown, beams of light, wings and two white doves.
Walsted said he was planning to “lead all the motorcyclists in prayer once inside the fair,” but he and the others were escorted out once they paid for admission. Fair rules ban gang colors or signs, and Major Al Greco joined members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in telling the quartet that they could not enter the fair while wearing vests with the patches indicating motorcycle club membership.
Tampa Bay Times reported that approximately 50 bikers from numerous clubs were turned away that day. In their subsequent lawsuit, the four accused Greco, the Florida State Fair and other fair officials of violating their First Amendment rights to freedom of association and religion. U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington nevertheless dismissed the complaint without prejudice Tuesday because it failed to specifically indicate claims under the federal civil right law Section 1983, which creates a private right of action for civil damages.
The fair demonstrated that the “plaintiffs’ naked reference to § 1983 is insufficient for defendants or this court to assume that they intended to bring [counts one through nine] under its rubric,” according to the ruling. “Plaintiffs may have identified constitutional rights alleged to have been violated, but have failed to allege causes of action associated with those violations,” Covington added. The judge also declined to give the plaintiffs an injunction restraining the defendants from “ordering, compelling, bullying, requesting, coercing, or threatening a member of a motorcycle club or motorcycle ministry to remove their vests with ‘patches’ on them signifying membership within a particular organization.”
Injunctions are appropriate only if plaintiffs can show they will continue to be harmed during the course of litigation, according to the ruling. “Conspicuously absent from the operative complaint is any allegation that the plaintiffs intend to return to the Florida Stair Fair wearing their prohibited patches or that the plaintiffs face specific future harm at the hands of the defendants,” Covington wrote. Vaguely alleging that “the Florida State Fair Authority will continue to selectively exclude certain motorcyclists from the fair” is not sufficient to reach the standard for an injunction
BY: LORRAINE BAILEY