ARLINGTON, Va.—The Institute for Justice (IJ) today announced an agreement between its clients, Erica and Zach Mallory, and the town of Eagle, Wisconsin. The Mallorys sued the town in 2020 for violating their First Amendment right to free speech. The Mallorys found themselves facing fines amounting to more than $20,000 for alleged minor violations of property ordinances on their small farm after speaking out about the town government at public meetings and on social media. They sued, arguing that the town pursued the enforcement action in retaliation for their public criticism. The case was scheduled for a federal jury trial this month, but the Mallorys and the town were able to reach a productive settlement that resolved the legal issues in the case while protecting the rights of every property owner in the town. As part of the agreement, the Mallorys will not face any fines or fees for the original alleged ordinance violations.
After consultations with the Mallorys and IJ, the town of Eagle enacted a variety of policy reforms bringing increased transparency and fairness to the ordinance enforcement process. These changes will reduce the financial burden of the enforcement process for property owners, increase transparency, and standardize the process to ensure that all alleged violators are treated equally.
For example, property owners are now entitled to a 30-day grace period (with a 30-day extension, upon request) to fix any alleged violations before facing any fines. Under the previous policy, fines could begin accruing daily from the date of the complaint against a property, before a property owner had an opportunity to rectify (or in some cases, even find out about) the alleged violation.
“Our intent through this entire experience was to make sure other people’s constitutional rights were recognized and honored, and this agreement makes progress for all in the Town of Eagle,” said IJ client Erica Mallory. “We are glad we could all arrive at this solution!”
“We are pleased to have reached such a positive resolution in this case,” said IJ Attorney Kirby Thomas West. “We commend the town and the members of the Town Board for working with IJ to strengthen protections for property rights and to ensure that the ordinance enforcement process cannot be weaponized to violate anyone’s First Amendment rights. All citizens of Eagle will benefit from these important reforms.”