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United Stated Mission Corporation v. City of Mercer Island

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 10, 2015

UNITED STATED MISSION CORPORATION, d/b/a UNITED STATES MISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MERCER ISLAND, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Dkt. #4. Having considered the parties' pleadings and documents in support thereof, as well as oral argument presented by the parties on February 9, 2015, the Court now GRANTS Plaintiff's motion.

II. BACKGROUND

The essential facts underlying this case are not in dispute. United States Mission Corporation d/b/a United States Mission ("the Mission") describes itself as a nonprofit religious organization and interdenominational Christian-based organization dedicated to carrying out the Social Gospel inspired by the Book of Matthew, Chapter 25. Dkt. #6 at ¶ ¶ 1-2. According to the Secretary-General of the Mission, Brian Jones, the Mission operates residential facilities as a transitional program for homeless people who are willing and able to work. Id. at ¶ 3. While living in the Mission's residential facilities, residents participate in a self-help work program through which they earn direct grants in aid, which they can then apply to their individual needs, such as renting an apartment, obtaining a vehicle and paying for education. Id. Residents of the Mission are required to engage in door-to-door religious solicitation on behalf of the Mission. Id. at ¶ 4. The primary purpose of the solicitation is to practice the Social Gospel. Id. The Mission also obtains its funding through door-to-door solicitation conducted by its residents. Id. at ¶ 5. The Mission does not receive government funding of any kind. Id.

The City of Mercer Island is an eastern suburb of Seattle, WA, with approximately 24, 000 residents. Since at least 1994, Mercer Island has had a solicitation ordinance; however, the City had not enforced the ordinance between 2001, when this Court permanently enjoined the City of Medina from enforcing its solicitation ordinance, and February 14, 2014, when a newly-enacted ordinance repealing the prior version and changing certain provisions became effective. See Dkt. #13, Exs. 1, 2 and 16. The 2014 ordinance contains the following provisions:

5.16.010 Definitions.
Solicitor means any person who sells, offers for or exposes for sale, or who trades, deals or traffics in any goods or services in the city by going from house to house or from place to place or by indiscriminately approaching individuals. A solicitor is also someone who seeks to obtain gifts or contributions of money, clothing or other valuable items for the support or benefit of private causes, or any charitable or non-profit organization, association, or corporation, by going from house to house or from place to place or by indiscriminately approaching individuals.
5.16.020 Soliciting restrictions.
A. No solicitor shall engage or attempt to engage in the business of soliciting at any home, residence, apartment complex or business that prominently displays a "No Peddlers" or "No Solicitors" sign or any other similar sign that communicates the occupants' desire not to be contacted by solicitors.
B. No solicitor shall engage in the business of soliciting between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.
5.16.030 License Required - Exemptions
A. It is unlawful for any person to act as a solicitor unless that person first secures a license in the manner provided in this chapter.
B. The following are exempt from the licensing and application requirements under this chapter, but must comply with MICC 5.16.020:
1. Newspaper carriers, except as otherwise provided in paragraph 4, below;
2. Charitable, religious or nonprofit organizations or corporations which have received tax exempt status under 26 USC Section 501(c)(3);
3. Peddlers of fruits, vegetables, berries, eggs or any farm produce edibles raised, gathered, produced or manufactured by such person;
4. A person who, after having been specifically requested by another to do so, calls upon that other person for the purpose of displaying or delivering goods, literature or giving information about any article, thing, product or service;
5. A person engaged in political or religious solicitation; and
6. All persons under the age of eighteen (18) unless employed by another person or organization.

Dkt. #13, Ex. 16.

The Mission conducts its solicitation activities between 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Dkt. #16 at ¶ 2. According to Mr. Jones, the Mission has found that the weekday hours, particularly between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., represent the times that residents are most likely to be home, and are the most productive time for the Mission. Dkt. #6 at ¶ ¶ 8 and 9. Further, according to Mr. Jones, it is necessary to solicit every weeknight until 8:00 p.m. "to sustain the cost of the canvassing, which is the Mission's main means of support." Id. at ¶ 8.

In late 2014, the Mission prepared to begin practicing its Social Gospel and solicitation of donations on Mercer Island. Id. at ¶ 7. However, it has not yet engaged in such activity because of the ordinance prohibiting solicitation after 7:00 p.m. Id. In an effort to address the curfew with the City, the Mission's counsel attempted to contact the Mercer Island City Attorney twice in October, but received no response. Dkt. #5 at ¶ ¶ 3 and 4, Exs. 1 and 2. After further attempts to contact the City Attorney, the Mission received a request for an extension of time to respond on November 10, 2014, to which the Mission agreed. Id. at ¶ 5, Ex. 3. The Mission did not receive a response. Id. at ¶ 6. Accordingly, on November 26, 2014, the Mission made one more attempt to engage the City Attorney in a discussion of the ...


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