OCEAN CITY — Emboldened by their victory last week in a federal civil suit that struck down the significant elements of Ocean City’s street performer ordinance, the plaintiffs in the case are now seeking punitive and compensatory damages from the town.
Last week, a federal judge ruled against the town of Ocean City on the salient points of a civil suit filed in U.S. District Court by a group of Boardwalk street performers asserting the town’s busker requirements violated their First Amendment rights. Essentially, the federal court’s ruling eliminates the pre-registration requirements and most of the time and space restrictions on street performing on the Boardwalk.
Now, less than a week later, attorneys for the street performer plaintiffs have fired off a letter to the presiding judge seeking guidance on how to settle the issue of damages. The judge’s ruling last week carefully spelled out the aspects of the complaint on which the buskers were successful, along with certain other aspects of the case where the town was successful, including a prohibition on street performers setting up shop on certain street ends such as North Division Street, for example, which are critical access points to the Boardwalk and beach for police, fire, emergency services and the beach patrol.
What the judge’s ruling last week did not include, however, was any mention of an award of damages to the named plaintiffs in the case. The original complaint filed in 2015 sought punitive and compensatory damages of at least $1 million from the town of Ocean City along with attorney fees and other costs associated with litigating the case.
However, the fourth amended complaint, and the one on which the buskers ultimately prevailed for the most part, did not assign a specific number for the punitive and compensatory damages sought. Instead, the complaint urged the court to “enter a judgment that the plaintiffs have been deprived of their rights under the United States Constitution and the Maryland Constitition and award the plaintiffs compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.”
The fourth amended complaint urged the court to order the defendant, in this case the town of Ocean City, to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees along with other costs associated with the litigation. At any rate, the buskers, through their attorneys, this week fired off a letter to U.S. District Court Richard Bennett pointing out his final ruling left the door open for awarding damages to the plaintiffs.
“You issued a decision and order in this case on May 9 and the order concludes by directing the clerk of the court to close the case,” the letter reads. “The scheduling order in this case, however, provided that the case would be bifurcated to first allow cross motions for summary judgment on the lawfulness of the ordinance and a separate period thereafter to address damages ‘when and if necessary’.”
Whether that number is the $1 million stated in the original complaint or the rather nebulous amount of damages to be determined at trial, the “when and if necessary” time has now arrived, according to the plaintiffs’ letter to the judge this week.
“In light of the court’s decision and the controlling case law, an opportunity to address damages is now necessary,” the letter reads. “To that end, the plaintiffs respectfully request a call to discuss with the court how to proceed, particularly whether the issue ought to be referred to a magistrate for a determination or a settlement conference.”