Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 25 - September 1, 2010

Second lawsuit challenges new vendor rules for parks

BY Albert Amateau

A group of artists has filed a second lawsuit challenging the Department of Parks’ new rules limiting where they can sell their First Amendment-protected material in four Manhattan parks.

The most recent action was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan earlier this month after “expressive matter” vendors failed to obtain a preliminary injunction against the new rules in the first suit in Federal Court

The state court suit filed by Jon S. Brooks on behalf of Artists United is similar to the first one which is still pending despite Federal Judge Richard Sullivan’s denial of a preliminary injunction.

The new action also seeks a temporary injunction, pending a permanent ban, against the new rules that went into effect July 19. The suit contends the new rules are unconstitutional and have resulted in discrimination against women, the elderly and handicapped artists.

According to the rules, the artists may only vend in a specific number of spaces marked by small medallions at Union Square Park, Battery Park, High Line Park and parts of Central Park from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 86th Street down to Columbus Circle.

The spots are allocated on a first come first serve basis, but the new suit states it is impossible to determine which artists came first to be entitled to a space.

“Expressive matter vendors have been spending the night on the perimeter areas of the restricted parks … and have been faced with intimidating conflicts with other expressive matter vendors over who arrived first at particular designated spots,” the suit states. Consequently, the new rules “have resulted in a ‘survival of the fittest’ system which has a discriminatory effect on women, the elderly and the physically infirm who are unable to fairly compete with others for the designated spots,” according to the court papers.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has said the new rules were drafted because the proliferation of expressive matter vendors was overcrowding the four restricted parks and limiting access to them of other park users.

The new suit challenges the overcrowding claim and contends that expressive matter vendors are being wrongfully singled out as causing whatever overcrowding there is. The suit claims the four-days-per-week Greenmarket as well as the occasional holiday markets, corporate art installations and corporate events have a much greater impact on Union Square Park than all the expressive matter vendors combined, but the new rules make no attempt to reduce or restrict such vendors.

Artists United had filed the federal court suit in July, joining another group, A.R.T.I.S.T., (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), but only Artists United are involved in the state court action. Julies Milner, the lawyer representing A.R.T.I.S.T., said she was continuing the case in federal court to permanently cancel the new rules.


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