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City, Festival prevail in 2nd lawsuit

Staff Writer | June 2, 2021 1:00 AM

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Judge Lansing Haynes of the First Judicial District Court granted a request for summary judgment by the city of Sandpoint and the Festival at Sandpoint Tuesday evening, denying a competing request for summary judgment by the plaintiffs Scott Herndon, Jeff Avery, the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, Inc. and the Second Amendment Foundation Inc.

The decision marks the second lawsuit against the city and the Festival regarding the Festival’s gun ban.

In the first, between the city and the county, Haynes ruled in favor of the city and concluded the Sheriff and county lacked standing for the case. The city and county agreed in that case for a Joint Stipulation of Dismissal, under which the county paid the city of Sandpoint $71,206.55.

In the decision, Haynes wrote plaintiffs’ allegations that the city and Festival had intentionally violated their Second Amendment rights were unwarranted, as Idaho law states governmental entities cannot be held liable for the conduct of private entities.

Further, he wrote, most rights secured under the Constitution are protected against infringement by government action. In regard to state action, court precedent states that the question of legality is whether the wrongdoer “is clothed with the authority of state law.”

“The public function test is satisfied only on a showing that the function at issue is ‘both traditionally and exclusively governmental,’” Haynes wrote.

Plaintiffs had argued that because the city and the Festival acted closely in regards to the summer music series, the Festival’s decision could be argued to be that of the city’s. However, Haynes wrote, the Festival provided its own security, with police only standing by in case of the need for security to make a citizen arrest.

The argument, Haynes wrote, had even less evidence of state action than another similar case where that argument failed.

Plaintiffs further claimed their right to equal protection had been violated by the defendants’ decisions. However, Haynes wrote, precedent states that alleged Second Amendment infringements are better analyzed under the Second Amendment, and not the Equal Protection Clause.

In addition to this argument, plaintiffs made an additional claim of conspiracy to deprive plaintiffs of their right to bear arms by the Festival and the city.

“This claim likewise fails as a matter of law. For plaintiffs to prevail on this claim they must show 1) some racial or other class-based discriminatory animus and 2) that a conspiracy existed aimed at interfering with rights that are protected against private as well as official encroachment,” Haynes wrote. “Plaintiffs have presented no factual basis nor legal authority to support that they are members of a suspect or quasi-suspect class to be afforded special scrutiny or protection. Moreover, there is no evidence in this record to support plaintiffs’ claim that defendants had, as a motivation for their action, the intent to deprive plaintiffs of any constitutional right.”

Lastly, plaintiffs argued that because the city lacks the authority to ban firearms, it cannot convey an authority it does not possess to the Festival. However, Haynes wrote, plaintiffs misconstrued the nature of the lease in their argument.

“The city’s lease does not delegate firearms banning authority to the Festival; rather, the city simply leases [War Memorial Field] to the Festival for the purpose of conducting a music festival. The city’s conveyance of a leasehold interest entitles the Festival to exclusive possession of the property,” Haynes wrote.

Based on court precedent, that “possessory interest” includes the right to control the property and right to exclude others, Haynes wrote.

“It must be noted,” he wrote, “that in the Idaho legislature, in enacting its exclusive authority in the field of firearms regulation, specifically considering its citizens’ constitutional rights to bear arms vis-à-vis the right of the property owners and tenants … nothing prohibits private leaseholders, like the Festival, from exercising its leaseholder rights to control its leased property during the term of the lease.”

Scott Herndon wrote in an email he and the other plaintiffs are considering all options, including “cumulative remedies” at the moment.

“We may appeal this decision while simultaneously filing a new cause of action challenging the validity of the lease,” he wrote. “[E]very single one of our team is committed to upholding the God-given right of protecting ourselves and our families and resisting any erosion of those rights as codified in the [Second] Amendment and in the Idaho Constitution.”

Herndon said that if the decision were the last word than preemption in Idaho "means nothing."

"[As] this decision is written, any city or county in the state of Idaho could make a contract with a private party for any public property, public park, public sidewalk, label it a lease, and that private party can ban firearms on that property for the duration of the 'lease.'”

An example is the farmer’s market held at Sandpoint's Farmin Park, Herndon said.

"During the hours of the market, the contract to use the park could be labeled a lease, and the Farmer’s Market organization could ban firearm possession under the cover of this district court decision," he added.

In a statement by the city, Mayor Shelby Rognstad said the city looks forward to the return of the Festival on the fully renovated War Memorial Field this summer.

“We are currently finalizing the permit with the Festival at Sandpoint for this year’s concert series,” he said. ““The Festival is an event our community and visitors look forward to each and every year and it is an important economic driver for our community.”