In an ACLU victory, the Hampshire Superior Court today ordered a Massachusetts condominium development to allow residents to post signs at their units, citing the free speech provision of the state constitution.
Together with the Northampton law firm Sasson Turnbull Ryan & Hoose, the ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Margery Jess, a resident at the Summer Hill Estates development, who was ordered by trustees to remove a Black Lives Matter sign that she had placed just outside her condominium or face severe financial penalties.
In October 2020, the Court issued a preliminary injunction allowing Jess to post her Black Lives Matter sign in the vicinity of her condominium unit until the lawsuit was resolved. As a result of the lawsuit, the association has now amended its rules governing signage at Summer Hill Estates.
“Across Massachusetts, we see condo and homeowners’ associations impeding the right of property owners and their tenants to engage in free speech through signs at and near their homes,” said Ruth Bourquin, senior and managing staff attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We hope this landmark decision is a wake-up call that such restrictions must end.”
"I am enormously appreciative of the Court’s judgment, which guarantees my right to freely exercise freedom of speech in support of anti-racism and social justice in my community,” said Jess.
"This case is a poignant reminder of the foundational importance of freedom of speech, particularly in these fraught and perilous times," said William Newman, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Western Regional Law Office. "Ms. Jess’ standing strong for this fundamental freedom has been inspiring."
The victory builds on two related ACLU victories for free speech: In 2019, a federal district court permanently blocked the City of Holyoke from enforcing its unconstitutional ordinance prohibiting “temporary” lawn signs on private property in the city during three months of the year and prohibiting bumper stickers all year round. The Scituate Board of Selectmen also voted to suspend enforcement of a local ordinance limiting the placement of political signs on private property.