Time, Place and Manner Restrictions on the First Amendment

In previous posts, we have discussed the importance of the First Amendment. We have also discussed that speech is not always just speech — it can also be conduct. Today, we are going to talk about legitimate government restrictions on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. One such restriction established in case law decided by the Supreme Court of the United States is restrictions on time, place and manner of speech.

What is a “Time, Place & Manner” Restriction?

Time, place and manner restrictions include regulations of when, where and how someone speaks. For example, a school may tell its students that they may not discuss politics during class. A state court may require that no one say anything at all in a court room unless they are an attorney or a witness on the stand. Some government buildings prohibit any sort of protest or speech within the buildings themselves, allowing the government workers to work unimpeded by any sort of disruptions around them. (For example, you can’t march into Fort Knox and demand the right to protest.) These are all examples of time, place and manner restrictions. 

There are a few requirements to sustain a time, place and manner restriction in court. If challenged, the government entity must be able to show that these restrictions are “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “significant governmental interest.” For example, the school district that says that its students may not engage in any political speech at all during the entire school day, whether in or out of classes because it is worried about distractions in the classroom, is probably guilty of an overboard restriction that would not be sustained by a court. The goal of a good education may be a significant government interest, but there are less restrict ways to achieve that goal. The school might be able to require that students not talk while in certain types of classes that have nothing to do with politics, for example, while leaving them free to discuss their views throughout the rest of the day. 

“Content Neutral” Restrictions

restrictions to the first amendment

Another important point is that a restriction must be applied equally across the board and must be “content neutral.” In other words, a school that says that students may not talk about religion during specific classes but allows discussion of any other sort of philosophy or politics is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Similarly, if a courtroom was to say that no one can protest out in front of the court, but then allows specific demonstrations for increased government salaries inside, this would be an example of discrimination against speech based on content. In these cases, the supposed time, place and manner restriction is just an illegal attempt by the government to restrict speech that it does not find appealing. 

What Do You Do if Your Rights are Violated?

What do you do if your rights are violated by a time, place, and manner restriction? There are various types of civil rights lawsuits available to you. Figuring out whether a time, place and manner restriction is an appropriate restriction of speech is a complicated process and requires careful analysis of the challenged regulation, the case law that has been decided on these topics, and sometimes even what you desire to say. In future blog posts on this topic, we are going to cover other restrictions on the First Amendment that the government may pass.

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

Contract Cases in Federal Court

When your business is sued in federal court, it can be a strange and surprising experience. A common question that we receive from business owners is, “How can my business be sued in federal court over a contract? Isn’t federal court just for crimes and serious litigation?”

How it Works

In most cases, federal cases over contracts are brought because one party is from a different state than the opposing party and there is more than $75,000 in damages that are at issue in the lawsuit. In other words, your first instinct might be right: a contract case only enters the federal court because it is a pretty big deal. 

Beyond this, contract cases in federal court are much different than contract cases in state court. A breach of contract action requires that the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) demonstrate that the defendant violated the terms of an agreement. This agreement doesn’t have to necessarily be written (although it usually is when there is a lot of money at stake). 

Several defenses to contract actions exist, including proof that the contract was impossible to perform or that the plaintiff violated the contract first. In rare cases, the contract itself might violate state or federal law, which means it cannot be enforced in court.

More About Federal Court Cases

Cases in federal court should be taken seriously because they tend to move quickly. This is especially true of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, often referred to as “the rocket docket” because of the speed with which the cases move to trial. In other words, if you are not preparing from day one, you are not going to be ready by the time the case gets to the summary judgement phase and to trial. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

If you or your business has been sued in federal court, it is important to seek litigation attorneys who can handle your case. Contact the Cornerstone Law Firm and speak with our experienced federal litigators to discuss your options in moving forward and how you can best defend your case.

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For more information about how we can serve you, contact us today!

Representation in Federal Court

If you’ve been sued in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, there are a number of questions you will need to confront quickly. These questions include whether you were properly sued in the Eastern District, whether the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has “personal jurisdiction” over you in a lawsuit, and whether you have any counter-claims or defenses that you will need to raise in your first pleadings.

In federal court, if you have been served with a complaint you typically have only 21 days from the date of service to answer. If you waive service in advance, you will have longer to respond. 

Does Your Case Belong in Federal Court?

In addition to determining counterclaims and affirmative defenses available to you, an important question you should analyze is whether the case belongs in federal court rather than state court. Unlike state courts, federal courts are of limited jurisdiction, which means they can only handle cases specifically authorized by the Constitution and by Congress.

Whether the case you are involved in falls under those categories of cases authorized by Congress and the Constitution is a question requiring legal analysis that needs to be done immediately to determine whether the court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claim. 

Choosing Your Next Steps

Additionally, like any other case, as a defendant, you need to decide up front whether you wish to fight the case and defend it on its merits or attempt to settle it and avoid the rising costs of defending a lawsuit. This decision can be difficult, but is made easier when you really understand the likelihood of your success in defending a case and the possible risks involved in losing it. This requires an exploration of the facts and law that gave rise to the lawsuit.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is sometimes called the “rocket docket” because of the speed with which litigation moves and the promptness of trial dates. Most cases in the Eastern District are set for trial in less than a year from the date the suit is filed. This is remarkably fast for courts of any kind and makes the Eastern District of Pennsylvania one of the most fast-paced courts in the country. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Perhaps you have heard the expression, “Don’t make a federal case out of it.” This simple expression confirms one truth about federal cases—they are serious and shouldn’t be ignored.

If you have been sued in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, we welcome you to contact Cornerstone Law Firm. Contact us today for a consultation on your federal case:

Waiving Summons in Federal Court

When you have been sued in federal court, it is customary for the attorney who represents the plaintiff (the person suing you) to reach out to you by email or letter with a copy of a Waiver of Summons. An example of what this document looks like is provided below.

waiver of summons
Sample Waiver of Summons

A Waiver of Summons requests that you sign and accept the service of the Complaint, thus simplifying the process of bringing you in to court to be sued. So why would anyone do this? Why make it easier for the person trying to sue you? There are three good reasons why you should consider waiving service of the Complaint:

1. You have more time to answer

If you are served with a Complaint in federal court, you get only 21 days to answer the Complaint. This is a very quick turnaround, especially when you take into consideration the time it might take to find a litigation attorney you trust who can handle a federal case.

However, if you sign the Waiver of Summons, you get 60 days from the date the waiver was offered to you. With more than double the time to answer, you may also have the opportunity for other procedural maneuvers and even opportunities to resolve the case out of court before undertaking the expense of filing an answer or a motion to dismiss.

2. It costs less to waive summons

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4, if you refuse to waive service, you are responsible for the cost of service. This can cost hundreds of dollars in some cases and that cost will ultimately be passed on to you, regardless of whether you win or lose the lawsuit. Compared to other litigation costs, this may not seem like much, but when you have the option to waive service and avoid this cost altogether, it certainly seems unnecessary.

3. You can avoid the embarrassment of personal service

Many people do not care about personal service and do not mind if a private process server shows up to hand them a complaint. However, if you run a business, and in many other circumstances, you may prefer not to be embarrassed in front of coworkers, friends, business associates, or relatives by service of the complaint and the announcement in front of those people that you have been sued in court.

Waiver of Summons allows you to avoid living under the constant fear of a process server arriving in your office or at your home, and announcing to everyone within earshot that you have a lawsuit in federal court against you.

To waive or not to wave?

With all that said, there are also some times that it is not wise to waive service of process. Although these situations are relatively rare, a good litigation attorney who handles cases in federal court can help you decide whether it is right to waive service or to force the other side to serve you with the process. And more important than this decision are the many decisions that will immediately follow.

Should you file an answer or a motion to dismiss? Should you be in discovery immediately or is a private, internal investigation the first step? These and a hundred other questions can be worked through with experienced litigation counsel.

Call Cornerstone Law Firm today if you have been sued in federal court to discuss your case and to see if one of our litigation attorneys can help you. 

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Writ of Summons

If you’ve been served with a Writ of Summons in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania or, in any other county in Pennsylvania for that matter, it’s extremely important that you do not ignore it. A Writ of Summons is the beginning of a lawsuit, and it takes care of one of the most difficult and important parts of the process—serving the lawsuit.

In other words, as a Defendant, you’re not going to get another notice about this lawsuit served through official means, such as a sheriff. From now on, everything you get is going to come through the mail. You don’t want to risk receiving this mail while you’re out of town, on vacation, or dealing with the other busy details of life that might keep you distracted.

Pennsylvania Summons
A Writ of Summons is an alternate form of original process in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What to Do

When you’re served with a Writ of Summons, the first thing to do is to immediately take action to insist that the Plaintiff file a Complaint substantiating their right to a lawsuit. Their failure to do so can result in a complete dismissal of the charges.

What happens if you don’t know what the charges are based on? What happens if you don’t even know the person suing you? Surprisingly, this happens to many defendants.

Regardless, you should still take action to force a Complaint right away. This gives you the chance to gather evidence, prepare your defense, and hopefully push the Plaintiff into a position where the case can be settled or dismissed.

Take Next Steps

The Writ of Summons is part of Pennsylvania’s very complex Rules of Civil Procedure. Failure to abide by the Rules of Civil Procedure can result in very serious waivers of your rights. Contacting a civil litigation attorney is an important first step in the process. Litigation lawyers can help you figure out the rights steps to take in the process.

Contact us at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your Writ of Summons in Pennsylvania and to see how we can help you navigate the process.

Oley Valley Students Settle First Amendment Lawsuit

Every American has the right to free speech under the First Amendment. That’s why Cornerstone Law Firm is glad to announce that our clients, three students in the Oley Valley School District, have had their voices heard in their recently settled lawsuit.

We worked with the students to bring a lawsuit against Oley Valley School District for violating their First Amendment rights. The case has now settled for $5,000 for the students plus attorneys’ fees and expungement of the discipline resulting from their school board speech.

Oley Valley School District students (from left to right) Vinny Ferrizzi, Haley Hartline and Jordan Eck practicing their First Amendment rights

What Happened

Jordan Eck, Haley Hartline and Vinny Ferrizzi were disciplined for speaking at a school board meeting last March, where they expressed concerns about the way the drama program was being run. Within 24 hours of speaking to the school board, two of the students were suspended and removed from the school play, and less than two weeks later, the third was removed from school property in front of his classmates. Various excuses for this retaliation were offered throughout the lawsuit, but upon production of surveillance footage demonstrating the pretextual nature of these excuses, the parties finally agreed to settle.

The monetary settlement reimburses the students’ families for the expense of litigation and will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier. The settlement also includes compensation for Jordan for the defamation of his character by the drama program director in a series of emails to the parents of other students in the drama program, as well as others in the community. All three students will receive compensation from the district’s insurance carrier for the violation of their rights to free speech.

What They Have to Say

The students expressed their relief that the case is over. “This is a victory for our First Amendment rights, and for the rights of other students to speak freely without fear of retribution,” said Eck after the settlement was reached.

“It shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit to force the School District to respect our right to speak,” said Hartline.

Ferrizzi agrees: “We wanted an apology, but it’s clear that this will have to do. This is vindication.”

“The First Amendment was written to protect us; but sometimes, we have to protect the First Amendment,” said Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready, the students’ attorney. “When government officials, however major or minor, seek to punish citizens for their speech, it is imperative that we stand up against that.”

Attorney Ready believes the lawsuit has bigger implications beyond these three students, and beyond Oley Valley:

“This case would have created a chilling effect on other students right to speak up, and I hope the message is loud and clear: as a student, you’re allowed to respectfully express your opinion to those in power, even if your opinion is unpopular.”

How it Started

The case began when Cornerstone Law Firm reached out to the School Board on behalf of the students, demanding that their discipline be expunged. The School Board refused reverse the punishments, necessitating rising costs, and ultimately, this settlement. Attorney Ready says he expects this case will have a positive impact on the School District:

“My clients hope this will cause the Oley Valley School Board to take definite steps to train their employees about protecting students’ rights. The Supreme Court says that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. That is especially true when students speak to school board members—their elected representatives.”

Various messages of both support and opposition have been received on social media by the students, but Eck explains, “From the beginning, we understood that was part of it. We just want every student to be able to speak freely, just like we did.” Ready agrees.

“I’m proud of these three students,” he said. “They’ve shown courage in the community, sometimes in the face of misinformation intentionally spread about them. They’ve shown Oley Valley how important free speech really is.” The Court issued a “Rule 41 Order” last week, and the students and district signed a final agreement today.

Student Statement Posted on Social Media Today

The three students released posts on social media today. The post is as follows:

“We were each disciplined by OVSD last year after we spoke at a school board meeting and expressed concerns about the individual overseeing the drama program. While anyone has a right to agree or disagree with what we said, no one had a right to blast out an email to the community defaming Jordan, claiming he “posted something against another student” such that the “police were called in” to deal with him. No one had a right to suspend Jordan and Haley and remove them from the school show for their speeches that night, and no one had a right to have Vinny escorted off of school property in front of our classmates. These actions were hurtful, and were done to retaliate against us for speaking an unpopular opinion to our elected officials.

As of this week, our disciplinary records related to this incident will be expunged, Jordan will be retroactively restored to his role as drama club President, and we will receive $100,000, which will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier—not by taxpayers. Most of this is merely to reimburse us the cost of bringing a federal suit. A nominal amount will pay for Jordan’s defamation claim, and all three of us will receive a small amount for the violation of our right to free speech.

The expense and stress of this lawsuit should have been unnecessary. Last March, Joel Ready, our attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm, sent a letter to the School District demanding that this matter be resolved by expunging discipline related to this incident, and that a small amount be paid to cover the attorneys’ fees we had incurred up till then. The School District preferred to fight about this instead, and finally was forced to settle on the eve of trial.

It’s really important to the three of us that all of our classmates hear this message loud and clear: no one can silence you just because you are a student. You’re a citizen of the United States, and when you speak as we did—calmly, respectfully, in the forum set up for public comment—the government and its officials do not have the right to retaliate against you.

We hope this case will give other students courage to speak up for themselves, and to speak against what they see as wrong. We’re grateful for those of you who have supported us along the way, and to those of you who haven’t, we hope you’ll keep all of this in consideration with an open mind and continue to dialogue with us. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.”

Contact Us

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

What is a “Plaintiff?”

In today’s post, we continue our series on litigation terminology, helping you to understand the various terms used when you’re involved in a lawsuit. Today’s question is, “What is a plaintiff?”

The word “plaintiff” is the title of the individual who initiates a lawsuit—someone who seeks to compel something from a Defendant via a court proceeding. They may be seeking money or “equitable” remedies, such as an injunction.

An over-simplified way of thinking about it is that he is opposite the defendant. Everyone knows what a defendant is—the one being sued. The plaintiff is the person bringing that lawsuit.

Another helpful way to understand this term is this: the existence of a “plaintiff” in a lawsuit is a tip that the matter is a Civil Suit rather than a Criminal one. In other words, no one is going to jail at the end of this trial. Rather, the litigation seeks a civil remedy of money or a court order determining a dispute between private parties. One final way of thinking about a plaintiff is that he is on the front side of the “v” in a lawsuit (Plaintiff v. Defendant).

We hope this explanation of the term plaintiff is helpful. If you have other questions related to your litigation, feel free to set up an appointment with the attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation about your case. Our litigation attorneys can explain the terminology, and more importantly, the strategy and rights you have in bringing or defending your case.

Default Judgment

When you fail to respond to a lawsuit filed against you, the court will grant the other party whatever relief they were seeking in their Complaint. This is known as a “default judgment.” In this post, we’ll discuss default judgments, and what you can do if you’ve found yourself dealing with one.

How Defaults Occur

When you’ve been served with a lawsuit, you typically have about thirty days to respond to that lawsuit (although this time varies depending on whether you are in state or federal court). If you don’t respond during that time, judgment will be entered against you in the amount of money claimed in the Complaint.

So, for example, if the complaint asked for $100,000, and you declined to answer, the court will assume that you had no problem with a $100,000 judgment entered against you. Admittedly, this is unlikely with a number that high, but there are plenty of times that someone may not really care about a complaint against them, because they figure the judgment is too small to fight about. They would rather give up, pay the amount to the person that holds the judgment, and move on with life.

The more common reason for a default judgment, however, is that the Defendant never learned of the lawsuit. For example, in some cases, the lawsuit may not have been properly served. In a common example in Pennsylvania, the person may have been served with a “Writ of Summons” which merely told them they were being sued but did not tell the Defendant what they were being sued for.

Unfortunately, many people allow these to simply sit around for a long time. One day, the Plaintiff mails the Defendant a Complaint or, in some cases, doesn’t mail it and claims that they did, and a default judgment is entered. The default judgment acts just like any other judgment. Once entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious and important problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When the judgment is entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When No Money is Claimed

Many Complaints never state a claim for a precise amount of damages, however. There is no rule requiring that a Plaintiff calculate their precise damages when they file a suit. Many times, damages are determined during the course of discovery and trial.

Accordingly, most Complaints are filed without a specific claim for the amount of damages at issue. In this case, the Court will award judgment on liability, and then will set a trial for damages. Discovery and other processes will ensue to aid the parties in determining exactly how much is claimed.

Conclusion: Don’t Sit on a Default Judgment

If a default judgment has been entered against you, don’t ignore it. You may be able to move to have the judgment re-opened. In other cases, you may be able to limit the amount of damages, even if the default is irreversible. What you should not do is wait.

Contact an attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your case.

How Much Time Do I Have to Answer a Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

If you’ve been served with a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court, you have 30 days to respond to the Complaint. You have only 21 days if you are sued in federal court.

The first documents that you file in court are extremely important because your failure to raise certain defenses might mean that they are lost forever. In fact, even answering a complaint could prejudice you in regards to your rights. But you will almost always want to file something in response to a Complaint, or else it will result in a default judgment.

Answering a Complaint in Pennsylvania State Court

Under state court procedure, after you are served by the sheriff or other authorized process server, you are told that you have twenty days to answer the complaint. This is technically true.

But, on the twenty-first day, you will be mailed what is called a “Ten Day Notice.” This notice warns you that you have failed to answer or properly object to the complaint in a timely manner and are technically in default. After these 10 days elapse, if you still not responded to the complaint, then the Plaintiff may move for a default judgment against you for the amount that they are claiming in their complaint.

In some cases, you may wish to “remove” (that is, transfer) the case to federal court, which must typically be done within 30 days of being served. Not every suit can be removed to federal court.

Answering a Federal Lawsuit

In Federal Court, the rules are a little less forgiving. Within 21 days after being served, you must file an answer or an appropriate Motion to Dismiss. Failure to do so will allow the Plaintiff to move for default judgment on day 22. After that, it will be very difficult for you to get the judgment reopened.

If you believe that a lawsuit is not properly presented in federal court, you are best served to file an appropriate motion before attempting to answer the Complaint.

What happens if I don’t answer a lawsuit in time?

Failing to answer or otherwise respond to a lawsuit in Pennsylvania (or anywhere, for that matter) is a big mistake. The clerk of the court will enter judgment against you and will award the Plaintiff the amount they asked for in the Complaint, even if that amount makes no sense under the facts and the law!

So, if someone sues you for $1,000,000 because they say you insulted them, if you don’t answer, the Court will assume you have no objection to being in debt to this person for $1,000,000. They can seek to collect this judgment against you in a variety of ways. It’s safe to assume you won’t want that.

If you’ve already had judgment entered against you, you can seek to have the judgment “opened” or “stricken.” Under state law, if you have failed to file in a timely manner and received a default judgment against you, you have another 10 days from the entry of default to move for the judgment to be opened as a matter of right.

After that, it is still possible to get it open, but it is much harder. In federal court, it is difficult to get a judgment reopened.

Conclusion: Don’t delay in seeking legal counsel

In all instances, it’s best not to wait at all. Doing nothing about a complaint is the worst possible thing you can do. A good attorney will want time to research your claim and gather documents that are relevant, so it’s important that you move quickly.

At the Cornerstone Law Firm, we defend individuals and companies in lawsuits on a frequent basis. If you’ve been served with a lawsuit in state or federal court in Pennsylvania, we welcome you to call us to discuss your rights.

Don’t delay – call us today!