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Edwards v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

May 7, 2013

TONIA EDWARDS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

OPINION

PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, District Judge.

The issue in this case is whether the District of Columbia's tour guide licensing scheme violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs are owners and operators of a sightseeing tour company in the District of Columbia called Segs in the City. The Court previously denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and defendant's motion to dismiss. See Edwards v. Dist. of Columbia , 765 F.Supp.2d 3 (D.D.C. 2011). This matter is now before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon careful consideration of the parties' papers, relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiffs' motion by Order of March 28, 2013.[1] This Opinion explains the reasoning behind that Order.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Regulating Washington's Tourism Industry

The District of Columbia's business licensing framework derives from a 1902 Act of Congress that made it "illegal for any person to engage in or carry on any business, trade, profession, or calling in this District for which a license tax is imposed without first obtaining a license." Richards v. Davison , 45 App. D.C. 395, 399 (D.C. 1916) (describing Act of July 1, 1902, 32 Stat. 622, 623 § 7, § 1). Congress enacted a statute in 1932 that provided that "[n]o person shall, for hire, guide or escort any person through or about the District of Columbia, or any part thereof, unless he shall have first secured a license to do so." Edwards v. Dist. of Columbia , 765 F.Supp.2d at 8 (describing Act of July 1, 1932, 47 Stat. 550, 558 § 38). The 1932 Act also authorized the Commissioners of the District of Columbia to create reasonable regulations governing the examination of and standards for tour guides. Id . The District has since revised and eliminated portions of its early regulatory laws, see id., but the tour guide licensing statute has remained essentially unchanged, now providing:

No person shall, for hire, guide or escort any person through or about the District of Columbia, or any part thereof, unless he shall have first secured a license so to do. The fee for each such license shall be $28 per annum. No license shall be issued hereunder without the approval of the Chief of Police. The Council of the District of Columbia is authorized and empowered to make reasonable regulations for the examination of all applicants for such licenses and for the government and conduct of persons licensed hereunder, including the power to require said persons to wear a badge while engaged in their calling.

D.C. CODE § 47-2836(a) (2012). A violation of this statute currently subjects a person, upon conviction, to a fine of not more than $300 or imprisonment for not more than 90 days. Id . § 47-2846.[2] No court has decided a First Amendment challenge to the District's tour guide licensing statute or regulations prior to this action. See Edwards v. Dist. of Columbia , 765 F.Supp.2d at 9 n.5.

At the heart of this dispute are the municipal regulations accompanying the District's tour guide licensing statute. From 2008 to 2010, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs proceeded through notice and comment procedures to consider revising the District's municipal regulations on tour guide licensing. It published the new regulations in their current form on July 16, 2010. See 55 D.C. REG. 12284 (Dec. 5, 2008); 57 D.C. REG. 4434 (May 21, 2010); 57 D.C. REG. 6116 (July 16, 2010). The revised regulations first define a "tour guide" as:

[a]ny person [1] who engages in the business of guiding or directing people to any place or point of interest in the District, or [2] who, in connection with any sightseeing trip or tour, describes, explains, or lectures concerning any place or point of interest in the District to any person.

D.C. MUN. REGS. tit. 19, § 1200.1 (2012). The regulations then restate the statutory prohibition on unlicensed tour guide activity in greater detail, providing:

No person shall offer to act as a sightseeing tour guide on the roads, sidewalks, public spaces, or waterways of the District of Columbia unless the person holds a valid sightseeing tour guide license...
No business or entity shall offer, for a fee, to conduct walking tours or tours where customers operate self-balancing personal transport vehicles, mopeds, or bicycles unless the business or entity is licensed...
No person, other than a licensed sightseeing tour company or sightseeing tour guide may use the words sightseeing, ' tours, ' guide, ' or any combination of these words, to advertise the availability of sightseeing tour services.

Id. §§ 1201.1, 1201.3, 1201.5.

The regulations also set out minimum standards for qualification as a tour guide. Historically, these standards required some showing of general health, wellness, and freedom from habit-forming drugs. See Edwards v. Dist. of Columbia , 765 F.Supp.2d at 9. Under the revised regulations, an applicant must (1) be at least eighteen years old, D.C. MUN. REGS. tit. 19, § 1203.1(a); (2) be proficient in English, id. § 1203.1(b); (3) not have been convicted of certain specified felonies, id. § 1203.1(c); (4) make a sworn statement that all statements contained in his or her application are true and pay all required licensing fees, id. § 1203.2; and (5) pass an examination "covering the applicant's knowledge of buildings and points of historical and general interest in the District." Id . § 1203.3. The required examination, which costs two hundred dollars for first-time applicants, consists of one hundred questions compiled from various guidebooks that test general knowledge of cultural and historical points of interest in Washington. See DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SIGHTSEEING TOUR GUIDE PROFESSIONAL LICENSING EXAMINATION STUDY REFERENCE, http://www.asisvcs.com/publications/pdf/690906.pdf (last visited Apr. 30, 2013); Pls.' MSJ Ex. A at 21:4-17.[3]

B. Segs in the City

Plaintiffs Tonia Edwards and Bill Main own and operate "Segs in the City, " a sightseeing tour company that rents Segways to customers for guided tours of Washington, D.C. as well as Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland. Edwards Decl. § 2; Main Decl. § 2.[4] In the District of Columbia, Edwards and Main book up to five guided tours each day; they share the work of training and leading groups between themselves and seasonal independent contractors. Edwards Decl. §§ 5-8. A "Segs in the City" tour has two phases. First, a tour leader instructs a small group of ten or fewer people on Segway riding fundamentals and how to comply with local traffic and safety regulations. Id . § 14. Then, after customers master their novel transport, they depart for one to three hours of guided sightseeing through Washington, D.C. Id . §§ 16-18. Guides remain in constant contact with their customers during the tours, utilizing radio earpieces distributed to members of the group to describe points of interest and answer questions. See id. § 17. While at the preliminary injunction stage, plaintiffs said the guides only "occasionally pointed out or described points of interest along the route, " they now say the guides point out "probably about 20 specific things... in the course of every tour" and are "almost always communicating with the people on the tour." Id . § 17.

Although plaintiffs operate in the District of Columbia, they refuse to obtain tour guide licenses. Edwards Decl. §§ 19-20; Main Decl. §§ 19-20. They seek a declaration from this Court that the District's tour guide licensing scheme violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution both facially and as applied to them. Compl. at 10. On their motion for preliminary injunction, plaintiffs argued that the District's licensing scheme constitutes a content-based restraint on their speech to customers that fails strict scrutiny review. See Edwards v. Dist. of Columbia , 765 F.Supp.2d at 12. The Court disagreed with plaintiffs on the proper standard of review, concluding

that the plain reading of the municipal regulations shows that they are directed at plaintiffs' conduct - not their speech.... The plain language of the regulations... makes clear that speech is not the trigger for the licensing requirement. Rather, like the statute, the regulations are triggered by conduct: the guiding or directing of a sightseeing trip or tour.... These regulations are "unrelated to the content of expression" and have, at most, "an incidental effect on some speakers or messages but not others."

Id. at 15-16 (internal citations omitted) (emphasis in original). The Court therefore found that the licensing scheme was a content-neutral regulation of speech subject to intermediate scrutiny under the First Amendment. See id. at 17-20. Determining that plaintiffs were not substantially likely to succeed under this standard, the Court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction. Id. at 19-20. The Court now turns to the merits of this case on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion for summary judgment must be granted if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Holcomb v. Powell , 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006); see FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a), (c). A disputed fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of a suit under governing law." Holcomb v. Powell , 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute over a material fact is "genuine" if it could lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Holcomb v. Powell , 433 F.3d at 895. A court making this determination must avoid making any credibility ...


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