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In reinstating a Missouri jury’s verdict in favor of a woman who claimed that the mayor of her town had punished her for speaking out, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized a new form of speech-chilling retaliation: parking tickets. Garcia v. City of Trenton, No. 03-1749WM. Carolyn Garcia, a gift shop owner in Trenton, Mo., had complained to Timothy Whitaker, the city’s mayor, that bicycle riders were riding on the sidewalk in front of her shop in violation of a city ordinance. Garcia talked up the issue at city council meetings and, failing to get relief, then wrote to her state senator and representative. Eventually she confronted Whitaker directly and the two had a heated exchange. At that time, he allegedly told her that because of her complaining, the city would start ticketing her for parking in front of her shop for more than two hours at a time-enforcing a rarely enforced city ordinance. Four tickets and $35 into Whitaker’s new get-tough policy, Garcia filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the mayor’s action had violated her civil rights. At trial, she testified that the uptick in ticketing had caused her anxiety and that she was now fearful of speaking at city council meetings because she feared additional retaliation. The jury awarded her $5,000 in compensatory damages plus $20,000 in punitives. The district court, however, threw out the verdict, holding that there was insufficient evidence to find that a few parking tickets would have chilled the free speech of a person of ordinary firmness. The 8th Circuit disagreed and, on Nov. 7, reversed the trial court ruling. Applying the “ordinary firmness” test-under which the court asks if the complained of behavior would chill the speech of a person of ordinary firmness-the court concluded that, while the mayor’s retaliatory acts may have been small in scope, they were issued in a short time span and that further harassment could be reasonably inferred. “Defendant, in his capacity as Mayor, engaged the punitive machinery of government in order to punish Ms. Garcia for her speaking out,” the court said. “Charges made by a parking ticket, to be sure, are typically only petty offenses, not even misdemeanors, but they have concrete consequences.”

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