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Hamilton County v. Alexander (Occupy Chattanooga case)

Topic(s): Court Procedure, Federal Jurisdiction, and Appellate Jurisdiction
Protecting Constitutional Rights and Requirements

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In response to demonstrations by Occupy Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee passed an ordinance in early January 2012 imposing new restrictions on demonstrations. The County then sued Occupy Chattanooga, several demonstrators, and several individuals who it mistakenly thought were demonstrators, seeking a declaration that its ordinance is valid. The suit also asks the court to impose the County's attorney fees and costs of suit on the defendants. As co-counsel for the defendants, Public Citizen Litigation Group moved to dismiss the County’s lawsuit on the ground that the County has failed to allege a case or controversy, as required to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts. None of the defendants has challenged the ordinance, and a government cannot sue its citizens to get a court ruling whether its own law is constitutional, much less force those people to pay litigation costs in a lawsuit in which they have no stake. Although Occupy movements in various cities have initiated court battles over the extent of their rights, this lawsuit appears to be the first of its kind against Occupy demonstrators. In March 2012, after briefing was complete on Public Citizen’s motion to dismiss, the County voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit.