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PETA, Inc. v. Shore Transit

Last Update: August 17, 2021

Summary

On August 17, 2021, the ACLU and Cockey, Brennan & Maloney, P.C. filed a lawsuit on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and its public transit division, Shore Transit.

The case is a First and Fourteenth Amendment challenge to Shore Transit’s policy prohibiting advertisements that are “political,” “controversial,” “objectionable,” or “in poor taste.”

In May 2020, PETA submitted two proposed advertisements calling for the closure of slaughterhouses along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Shore Transit rejected the advertisements, stating that they were “too offensive” for the transit system’s advertising market and “political in nature,” in violation of Shore Transit’s advertising policy.

The complaint alleges that Shore Transit’s policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it is incapable of reasoned application by Shore Transit’s officials, viewpoint discriminatory against speech that Shore Transit deems offensive, and inherently vague. It also alleges that Shore Transit applied the policy in a viewpoint discriminatory manner to censor PETA’s advertisements because of their message. The lawsuit seeks a court order invalidating Shore Transit’s unconstitutional policy and requiring the agency to accept and run PETA’s ads on Shore Transit’s system.

On January 17, 2021, the district court issued an order denying Defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. According to the court, the complaint plausibly alleges that “the criteria contained in Defendants’ policy are insufficient to ensure principled, consistent application”; that the policy’s prohibition against advertisements are “controversial, offensive, objectionable, or in poor taste” discriminates against viewpoints that Shore Transit deems offensive; “that PETA’s advertisements were indeed rejected for viewpoint discriminatory reasons”; and that “Defendants’ prohibitions are vague.”

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