Dexspeech

Corporate Personhood to Cost Seattle $500,000 to Settle Phone Book Lawsuit

Update 2: There is now a followup: Why you should care about Seattle’s phonebook debacle?

Update: This post did not include an estimate for the city’s own legal fees. The city retained Summit Law Group as outside counsel on the case which has lasted nearly 18 months and included written and oral arguments to the Federal Court of Appeals. City officials have no comment at this time on the cost of the city’s legal fees.

The Seattle Times is reporting that the City of Seattle will spend $500,000 to settle a lawsuit it lost with phonebook companies over its sensible opt-out program for residents.

Beginning in May 2011, Seattle began allowing residents to opt out of unwanted phonebook deliveries. The program was so popular, the city reports that more than 2 million pounds of paper are saved annually as a result. The phonebook companies sued the city and lost, but won on appeal. The city has chosen not to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The phonebook companies alleged in their complaint that the phonebook ordinance, “denies [their] rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” (free speech and due process). If not for the legal concept of “corporate personhood“, the phonebook companies wouldn’t be able to sue Seattle to assert Constitutional rights originally written only for people.

The rules of our legal system are now rigged to favor corporations. Rather than ask the question, “are the phonebook companies people?” and “do they have the right to free speech?” the courts have focused largely on whether the content in the phonebooks (advertisements and phone listings) represent free speech which can’t be regulated or commercial speech, which can be.

The phonebook lawsuit is ridiculous on its merits: The companies claim, “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits government from … enforcing the desire of citizens to avoid communications [and] from prying into citizens’ preferences regarding communications they seek to avoid.

These kinds of cases put the city council in a defensive posture concerned that its actions could provoke other expensive lawsuits. What kind of democracy do we have when the city council is afraid to regulate local nuisances and environmental harms?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen corporations take several approaches to influence what happens in Seattle:

The phonebook lawsuit is just one more way corporations leverage “corporate personhood” and free speech “rights” to sue the city or spend money on elections to manipulate the law in their favor.

  • http://twitter.com/WotansWoodcraft Woodrow Wotan

    Just
    organize a MeetUp group in your neighborhood, collect all unwanted
    phonebooks and threaten to (or actually do) dump them off at the source.

    Problem solved.

    • Mike

      Better yet, just dump your old appliances at their corporate headquarters with your own free speech protected message written on the side of it. Let them pay to dispose of my old dishwasher they way they force me to dispose of their phone book.

      • http://twitter.com/WotansWoodcraft Woodrow Wotan

        GENIUS.

        Lay it on its side and write on it,
        “COURT-PROTECTED
        FREE SPEECH! DO NOT
        REMOVE OR ERASE!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mikem42 Mike Miller

    Couldn’t we just fine the phone book companies for littering?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=36922842 Andrew Kay

    Off topic / FYI: I had to manually change the text colour on your page in order to read it comfortably.

    • wygit

      Why do sites do this? What is the purpose of using light-gray type?

  • http://twitter.com/youfoundthecard We Are Legion

    This is a natural result of capitalism. Wealth flows to the top, and where that wealth is not diverted by taxation to the public good, that wealth amasses to the extent where the elite can buy what ever they want. The people of Seattle voted for a monorail, and the elite killed it. Paul Allen buys up South Lake Union, and gets his own trolly to make the area more valuable. When the people of Seattle said “No” to a new football stadium, Paul Allen used his wealth to buy a state-wide election he knew would pass, The wealthy get what they want, while we have to fight just to keep a sack-lunch program for the homeless going.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Laudig/1188014994 Steve Laudig

    Reasonable regulation could require a distributor of unsolicited goods to obtain written permission [from the owner] in order to go onto real estate owned. Otherwise it is trespassing. It could require licensing of the distributors and impose a tax for collecting unclaimed property. Title to the books stays with the distributor until it is accepted by the entity being distributed to. Of course outing the corporate owners of the distributor would be good also.

  • grobber

    I’m dumping my unwanted Yellow Pages at the front door of Perkins Cole, the lawyers representing the directory publishers.

    Their Seattle office address is:
    1201 Third Avenue
    Suite 4900
    Seattle, Washington
    98101
    PHONE: 206.359.8000
    http://www.perkinscoie.com/seattle/

    Here’s the Perkins Cole press release gloating about their victory:

    http://tinyurl.com/b6tdda9 I used our (now illegal) City of Seattle opt-out list to refuse delivery of any directories. If I receive any, I’m delivering them to the PerkinsCole offices.

  • David Gervais

    If several people got together, recruited their friends and divided up the book, they could send an email to every advertiser in the book with a picture of the directory in the recycling bin. Add the message “Please don’t waste your money sending me stuff for my recycling bin.”

    Enough of that would kill the business model.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=36922842 Andrew Kay

    To defeat them within the confines of market-capitalism, organise boycotts of the companies whose paid advertisements fund them. It’s sad that democracy isn’t enough.

Top