Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.
Richard Blake was protesting on a sidewalk outside a mosque in Northglenn, Colorado. Two Northglenn police officers, Liliane Hong and Darren Burton, cited Blake for violating Northglenn Municipal Code 9-11-16.5, which prohibits the obstruction of streets and sidewalks. At Northglenn Municipal Court, Blake moved to dismiss the misdemeanor citation and argued the ordinance is “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad,” and the citation violated his First Amendment rights. Furthermore, Blake argued the citation was given in retaliation for exercising his right to free speech.
The municipal court denied the motion, and a three-person jury convicted Blake on Oct. 30, 2020. Blake appealed to the Adams County District Court; the judge rejected his argument about the ordinance and declined to address Blake’s other arguments. The court affirmed Blake’s conviction on June 23, 2021. The Colorado Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court denied Blake’s petition for certiorari in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
While his original appeal was pending at Adams County District Court, Blake filed an underlying federal lawsuit against Hong and Burton and the City of Northglenn with the same arguments made in Northglenn Municipal Court. The district court held the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred Blake’s vagueness and overbreadth claims because the state court had rejected them, and Rooker-Feldman didn’t apply to the remaining claims the state court had declined to address.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss all of Blake’s claims. The appeals court determined Rooker-Feldman didn’t bar the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction of Blake’s federal lawsuit. Blake’s federal lawsuit was filed five months before the state lawsuit was finalized. According to Guttman v. Khalsa, Rooker-Feldman “applies only to suits filed after state proceedings are final.” However, the defendants fully briefed their arguments that the overbreadth and vagueness claims should be dismissed on their merits in their motion to dismiss and Blake had a fair opportunity to respond.
The district court had granted their motion to dismiss. The 10th Circuit said Blake didn’t make a void-for-vagueness claim, which would demonstrate the ordinance fails to provide a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct is prohibited, or encourages arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement per Hill v. Colorado.
The 10th Circuit also found Blake failed to allege a plausible claim that the citation violated his First Amendments rights, as the ordinance allows people to exercise their First Amendment rights, as long as they don’t block sideways, doorways or driveways.