United States District Court, N.D. Florida
American Atheists, Inc., and Charles R. Sparrow, Plaintiffs,
Levy County, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT
E. Walker United States District Judge
case involves claims under the Establishment Clause and the
Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
Specifically, Plaintiffs challenge the presence of a
religious monument on government property and the denial of
their application to place a secular monument in the same
location. However, Plaintiffs lack standing to bring their
claims. Accordingly, Defendant's motion for summary
judgment, ECF No. 47, is GRANTED.
Defendant, Levy County, has its seat of government in
Bronson, Florida. Many of Levy County's government
offices are located in a single complex in downtown Bronson.
Specifically, the complex houses the Levy County Courthouse
in addition to offices for the Board of County Commissioners,
the Clerk of Court, the Property Appraiser, and the Tax
Collector. ECF No. 49-1, at 169. Furthermore, the complex is
flanked by the Supervisor of Elections' offices on one
side and an administrative building that houses the State
Attorney and Public Defender's offices on the other. An
aerial photograph of the property is provided below:
around 1996, a group of donors erected a veterans'
memorial in the courtyard between the Levy County complex and
the adjacent administrative building. ECF No. 48, at 7. The
memorial bears a number of military seals and a block of text
stating “IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO SERVED OUR COUNTRY IN
ALL WARS.” Id. A flagpole was placed next to
the memorial sometime later. Id. A picture of the
memorial and flagpole, as they stood in June 2009, can be
in 2008 or 2009, a member of the public inquired with Levy
County officials about placing a monument to the Ten
Commandments in the same courtyard as the veterans'
memorial. ECF No. 48, at 7. After researching the
legality of such a placement, the Levy County Attorney
concluded that the county “should adopt neutral
guidelines to govern the placement of private monuments on
County property.” Id. at 8. Guidelines were
eventually developed, and the Levy County Board of County
Commissioners (“BOCC”) approved them in a vote.
first application under the new guidelines came from
Tri-County Pregnancy Center, Inc.,
(“Tri-County”) in November 2009. Id. at 11.
Tri-County's application was for a six-foot tall,
five-foot wide “display of the Ten Commandments.”
ECF No. 50-23, at 1-2. The BOCC approved
Tri-County's application, and the monument
(“Monument”) was placed in the courtyard next to
the flagpole. ECF No. 48, at 11-13.
veteran's memorial, flagpole, and Monument can be seen in
the following picture (from left to right):
January 2014, Plaintiff Charles Sparrow applied to place a
monument in the courtyard on behalf of Williston
Atheists. ECF No. 50-1. The monument in question was
a “[g]ranite bench dedicated to citizens of Levy County
who are non-believers and who are not represented by the Ten
Commandments monument.” Id. at 1. The Levy
County Attorney prepared a staff report noting that
Sparrow's application failed to comply with the
county's monument-placement guidelines. ECF No. 48, at
15. The BOCC later denied the application. Id. at
March 2014, Sparrow submitted an “appeal and amended
monument placement application.” ECF No. 50-5. This
time the application was filed on behalf of both Williston
Atheists and Plaintiff American Atheists, Inc.
(“American Atheists”). Id. at 1. Once
again, the Levy County Attorney prepared a staff report
noting defects in the application. ECF No. 48, at 16-18. And
the BOCC once again denied the application. Id. at
18. Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit. ECF No. 1.
complaint is no paragon of clarity. See ECF No. 1.
Despite Plaintiffs' failure to enumerate a single count,
this Court discerns two claims from the complaint. First,
Plaintiffs claim that the presence of the Monument in the
Levy County courtyard violates the Establishment Clause of
the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
See Id. at 5. Second, Plaintiffs claim that Levy
County's denial of Plaintiffs' appeal and amended
monument placement application violates the Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution. See Id. at 6. For both of these
violations, Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief, injunctive
relief, and nominal damages. See Id. at 5-7.
The Establishment Clause Claim
this Court can consider the merits of Plaintiffs' claim,
this Court must first determine whether Plaintiffs have
standing. Standing is the “irreducible constitutional
minimum” necessary to make a justiciable
“case” or “controversy” under Article
III, Section 2, of the United States Constitution. Lujan
v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 559-60 (1992). To
have standing, a plaintiff must prove that (1) he suffered an
“injury in fact, ” (2) the injury is causally
connected to the defendant's conduct, and (3) the injury
is “likely” to be “redressed by a favorable
decision” of the court. Id. at 560- 61. This
Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to meet the
injury-in-fact requirement because Mr. Sparrow is unlikely to
encounter the Monument in the future and because his only
encounter with the Monument in the past was during a