Judge dismisses all but one count of Hensel’s lawsuit against the city

By Terry LehrkeNews Editor

Robin Hensel

Robin Hensel

A federal judge dismissed most of Robin Hensel’s complaints against the city of Little Falls Wednesday, Jan. 8.

Attorney Larry Frost filed the lawsuit against the city on Hensel’s behalf in May 2012.

The lawsuit alleged the city violated Hensel’s constitutional right to free speech, when she was asked to remove signs in her yard that violated city code in fall 2011.

The city maintained its sign ordinance was complaint-driven and that Hensel was asked to remove the signs only after a complaint was received about the signs in her yard.

Hensel found other signs in the city that violated the code, including a “We Support Our Troops” banner hanging on a building on Bank Square in Little Falls.

Robin Hensel uses signs in her yard on South First Street in Little Falls, to get her message across. The number and square footage of her signs violate city ordinance. Hensel sued the city, citing its ordinance was unconstitutional and restricted her right to free speech. Judge Richard Kyle recently dismissed all but one of the counts in Hensel’s lawsuit.

Robin Hensel uses signs in her yard on South First Street in Little Falls, to get her message across. The number and square footage of her signs violate city ordinance. Hensel sued the city, citing its ordinance was unconstitutional and restricted her right to free speech. Judge Richard Kyle recently dismissed all but one of the counts in Hensel’s lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that the city, which has updated its sign ordinance in the meantime, has singled Hensel out because it disagrees with the content of the signs and her political views.

It also alleged that the city’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional and gives preference to commercial signs, since the number of signs and the footage of signs allowed is greater in a commercially-zoned area than in residential areas.

In addition, the suit alleged that the city’s bench ordinance, which allows advertising on benches located throughout the city, was also unconstitutional. That bench ordinance has since been updated along with the sign ordinance.

Judge Richard Kyle held the city’s new sign ordinance is constitutional and dismissed that portion of the suit, which the city’s attorney Paul Reuvers called “a significant victory for the city.”

Hensel-signs-2However, as to her complaint against the city regarding the “old” bench ordinance (which no longer exists and was replaced with a new bench ordinance), the judge granted her the right to a jury trial to determine any damages with respect to that claim.

The court determined that the new sign ordinance is a valid time, place and manner restriction and that it serves the city’s interests without unreasonably limiting alternative forms of communication and granted the city’s motion to dismiss this count in the complaint.

In addition, the court rejected Hensel’s claim the sign ordinance was selectively enforced against her.

In Kyle’s decision, he notes, “Hensel also argues that the new sign ordinance was ‘enacted and selectively … enforced against [her] because of hostility towards her liberal viewpoints.’ Suffice it to say, the record does not support these claims.”

The city’s new bench ordinance was also found to be constitutional.

The decision states, “The Court concludes the new bench ordinance – like the new sign ordinance – is a content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation, and Hensel’s moving-target allegations have not provided any clear basis to undermine that conclusion. Accordingly, her challenge to the new bench ordinance fails.”

The court found the old bench ordinance unconstitutional as it allowed the city to control not only whether a bench could be erected and where, but also the wording used in the advertising on the bench.

A date and time for a jury trial, in the matter of the old bench ordinance, will be set to determine any damages for Hensel. It will most likely be held in Duluth, Reuvers said.

Hensel indicated in an email that she and her attorneys, Larry Frost and Bruce Fein, are considering whether or not to appeal the decision.

Frost wrote in an email Wednesday, “Co-counsel and I want to read the opinion thoroughly and discuss it further, then discuss it with Robin, before making any public statements.”

Reuvers said there is no right to any appeal until the entire case is over, after the trial.

At that point, the parties would have the right to appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, he said.

A link to the PDF file containing the Judge’s entire 31-page decision can be found  below, as well as the defense’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the motion submitted to the court by Hensel’s attorneys for a summary judgment in the case.

Hensel lawsuit-Memorandum Opinion and Order 1-8-14

City’s motion to dismiss lawsuit

Hensel’s memo in opposition to defense motion to dismiss

  • robin hensel

    Its not over yet…BY A LONGSHOT!!!!

    • Josh

      Robin, your personal vendetta is costing the HARD WORKING tax payers of Little Falls a lot of money. Just get over it!!! Not everyone is out to get you!

      • herbdavis

        I think the ignorant folks who run the city and want to suppress dissent seem to be running up the bill. I don’t think there is anything personal in her protests or expressions of dissent. Doesn’t seem bright to be against free speech and 1st Amendment rights when we are so dedicated to the rule of law.

        • Mitch Rapp

          Not personal? Are you serious?

        • Josh

          “The number and square footage of her signs violate city ordinance.”- Right from the story, as far as I can tell Robin is the only one NOT playing by the rules.

  • Jim Anderson

    Isn’t that what Custer said at Little Big Horn? Or were those the words Napoleon uttered before Waterloo? I can’t remember, Robin, can you?

  • Mitch Rapp

    Looks like you’re not gonna get that big payday Ms. Hensel… You might actually have to get a JOB!

  • Jody Scott Olson

    The only way the judge could arrive upon this conclusion was to disregard my testimony and the evidence I provided, a valid basis for appeal on its own. Although the ruling isn’t entirely surprising given this judges voting record and his contempt for the Occupy Movement. I talked to Larry Frost this morning,
    and an appeal appears likely. I was very glad of that and grateful to Larry Frost for confronting the blatant and arrogant legacy of civil rights violations by leaders of this community. I sincerely hope that the net result of all efforts is a more appropriate balance of power between community members and leaders, afford to them by our civil and constitutional law.

  • WJAMES

    The little person does not stand a chance.

  • WJAMES

    The little person does stand a chance.

  • WJAMES

    The little person does not stand a chance. I sure hope it changes

  • WJAMES

    She is a brave person for trying.

    • robin hensel

      wjames….. I would have done the same if another individuals rights had been trampled on. As is TYPICAL OF THE MORRISON COUNTY RECORD…THEY PRINT WHAT THEY WANT TO AND distort reality…..truth is; I WON HALF OF THE LAWSUIT ALREADY AND THE OTHER HALF may be appealed!!! I AM GOING TO BE AWARDED DAMAGES AND MY ATTYS FEES WILL BE PAID ALSO. This is the TRUTH. There is NO DOUBT THE CITY VIOLATED MY RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH, AND HAVE BEEN ACTIVELY AND EFFECTIVELY CHILLIN FREE SPEECH AT CITY HALL FOR TWO YEARS NOW. A person can’t even address the city council during their regular meeting anymore. All comments or concerns from the public must be addressed during the council work session that precedes the council meetings. They did this to stop the citizenry(mostly Theresa Skorseth and myself) from being to able to air our grievances or petition the council during the televised city council meeting. It was a deliberate move to get us off the air. Then there is the ongoing FIASCO WITH LOCAL CHANNEL 6 PUBLIC ACCESS TV, owner Jerry Abraham resigning from his position in another attempt to keep us off the air. Theresa and I were treated differently than others he filmed in his studio for broadcast on public tv. He didn’t like us telling on Mike Crecji, his contractor, for altering public data. (Mike Crecji cut the audio for five seconds while I was reading my drone petition during a city council meeting) According to the Minnesota Data Practice Act, if city council meetings are regularly filmed they are considered PUBLIC DATA. It is a MISDEMEANOR TO KNOWINGLY ALTER PUBLIC DATA. Seems they will stop at nothing to get their way. One must be diligent and tenacious to get them to behave above the board. Sometimes it takes a lawsuit, or more than one, to achieve this. If you are local, I implore you to COME TO CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS AND THE WORK SESSIONS an hour ahead of the council meetings. Check the city meetings list each week…sometimes they hold the work sessions as early as 5:30 p.m. In solidarity and with hope…..Robin Hensel

      • Josh

        Robin, maybe Jerry didn’t feel like putting up with you anymore and just wanted to do his job!!

  • robin hensel

    Like I said earlier folks……there may be an appeal. City should “not count their chickens” just yet.

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