City Officials Dismissed From Topless Lawsuit

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials named as individual defendants in the civil suit challenging Ocean City topless ordinance were dismissed this week, but the case against the town will continue to go forward.

Last June, the Ocean City Mayor and Council passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting women from going topless in certain public areas including the beach and Boardwalk where men are allowed to go shirtless. The ordinance was passed in response to a request from local resident Chelsea Eline from the town of Ocean City, the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Maryland Attorney General Office for clarification of the existing state laws prohibiting female toplessness in public areas.

Named as defendants in the civil suit are the Town of Ocean City, Mayor Rick Meehan, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro and Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald. Earlier this month, the named defendants filed a motion to dismiss the suit, evoking the doctrine of immunity for governmental bodies and their representatives.

This week, the plaintiffs filed a stipulation to that motion to dismiss the case, essentially removing Meehan, Buzzuro and Theobald from the case. However, the town remains a named defendant and the case will continue to move forward.

“The plaintiffs hereby jointly and severally dismiss all claims against defendants Richard Meehan, Joseph Theobald and Ross Buzzuro,” the stipulation reads. “The foregoing dismissal is as to the individual defendants only. All claims asserted against the town shall remain pending and are not being dismissed by this stipulation.”

Eline is an advocate for female bare-chestedness in public through the Top Freedom initiative and often goes topless in public areas in Maryland including Ocean City and Assateague, for example. In 2016, she sought an opinion from the town of Ocean City and its police department on the legality of the practice. The town and the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) then sought the opinion of the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office.

In turn, the State’s Attorney’s Office, uncertain of the interpretation of Maryland’s indecency statutes, sought the opinion of the state’s Attorney General on the issue. For several months, Eline and her advocates, along with the town and the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office eagerly awaited the Attorney General’s opinion on the issue with another summer season quickly approaching.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.