The American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Missouri filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a domestic violence survivor, challenging the constitutionality of a municipal ordinance which authorizes officials to revoke a resident’s occupancy permit based on calls for police assistance with domestic violence or based on crimes occurring at the property. 

Maplewood, Missouri requires every resident to have an occupancy permit.  Under its nuisance ordinance, the city can revoke residents’ permits and bar them from obtaining a new one for six months if they violate the nuisance ordinance.  “Nuisances” includes more than two instances of domestic violence resulting in calls to police in 180 days, and victims of crime are not exempted.

Between September 2011 and February 2012, Rosetta Watson’s former boyfriend punched her, shoved her, choked her, and refused to leave her property, resulting in calls to the police on four occasions.  Based on these four incidents, and even though city officials were aware that Ms. Watson was the victim of repeated domestic violence, Maplewood found that Ms. Watson was a nuisance, revoked her occupancy permit, denied her a new permit for 180 days, effectively banishing her from the city. 

The lawsuit asserts that the ordinance and its enforcement violated Ms. Watson’s First Amendment rights to petition and free speech, equal protection, due process, and right to travel, as well as conflicting with the federal Violence Against Women Act.

Final Outcome: Watson v. City of Maplewood officially settled on September 11, 2018. The settlement includes a major overhaul of the law and compensation for Ms. Watson. Additionally, Maplewood will no longer enforce the ordinance against victims of crime or penalize residents based on calls for police or emergency services. The city also will train its officials on how to support victims of crime and provide records annually to the ACLU about how it is enforcing the ordinance overall.  

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