Appeal Deadline Passes On OC Buskers Ruling

OCEAN CITY — The deadline for Ocean City to appeal a federal court opinion on street performing passed last weekend with not action taken, but that did not prevent the plaintiffs’ attorney from crowing a little more about the ruling.

A U.S. District Court judge last year issued a ruling in a federal suit brought by a group of Boardwalk street performers against Ocean City, striking down many of the provisions of the town’s busker ordinance as a violation of First Amendment rights. In the months since that ruling, the named plaintiffs in the case have been awarded nominal damages, in most cases just $100, in what was largely a symbolic gesture by the U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett.

The judge’s opinion and the subsequent awarding of nominal damages brought some measure of closure to the long-running case between the street performers and the city, but there was one more rather innocuous deadline to pass. Last week, the deadline for Ocean City to appeal the federal court’s ruling passed quietly with no action taken by the town. As a result, attorney Adam Holofcener took one last swipe at the town for its defeat.

“After years of uncertainty and restriction by the Town of Ocean City, performers on the Boardwalk are now able to rely on a strong legal decision when exercising their First Amendment rights,” he said. “Given Judge Bennett’s opinion, Ocean City needs to think twice before trying to enact any new type of regulation on Boardwalk performers that limit free speech.”

In 2015, a group of nine Boardwalk street performers filed suit in U.S. District Court asserting the town’s busker regulations, including the pre-registration process and site limitations, violated their First Amendment rights. Last May, a federal judge essentially agreed and struck down many of the provisions of the town’s ordinance regarding street performers, opining the ordinance as written and enforced did indeed violate the plaintiffs’ rights.

In simplest terms, the court’s ruling essentially pulled most of the teeth from the town’s street performer ordinance including the pre-registration requirement, the limitations on spaces utilized by buskers and the ban on any performances before 10 a.m.

The town won on a few points, including the section of the ordinance that keeps important access points open for emergency vehicles and prohibit street performing after 1 a.m.

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.