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Law School Case Brief

Gresham v. Peterson - 225 F.3d 899 (7th Cir. 2000)


A government regulation can be considered narrowly tailored so long as the regulation promotes a substantial government interest that would be achieved less effectively absent the regulation. This means the regulation need not be a perfect fit for the government's needs, but cannot burden substantially more speech than necessary. Furthermore, a time, place or manner restriction need not be the least restrictive means of achieving the government purpose, so long as it can be considered narrowly tailored to that purpose. 


Plaintiff Jimmy Gresham was a homeless person who lived in Indianapolis, Indiana ("City"), on Social Security disability benefits. He supplemented this income by begging, using the money to buy food. In 1999, the City amended its solicitation ordinance so as to limit street begging in public places and to prohibit entirely activities defined as "aggressive panhandling." Shortly thereafter, Gresham filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court against the City an defendant Bart Peterson, in his official capacity as mayor of the City, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Gresham filed a motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the ordinance on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally vague and violated his right to free speech. The district court denied Gresham's motion, granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. Gresham appealed.


Was the City ordinance unconstitutional?




The appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court analyzed and rejected Gresham's argument that the provisions defining aggressive panhandling were vague because they failed to provide clear criteria to alert panhandlers and authorities of what constituted a violation and failed to include an intent element. Likewise, the court rejected his claim that the ordinance failed the test for content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions on protected speech.

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