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West Michigan Band Instruments, LLC v. Coopersville Public Schools

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 10, 2018

West Michigan Band Instruments, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
Coopersville Public Schools, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge

         Schools enter into agreements with vendors for all types of goods and services, usually through a bidding process. Do they violate the First Amendment rights of competing vendors-who fully participated in the bid process, but were not chosen-when they exclude them from offering their services at school-organized events held on school grounds?

         No. The law is clear that government entities have the ability to limit speakers based on identity or subject matter in limited public forums as long as the restrictions are reasonable. Because Plaintiff West Michigan Band Instruments, LLC has not pleaded facts that could give rise to a violation of its First Amendment rights, the Court will grant the Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. Background

         WMBI is a music vendor, engaged in the business of selling and renting out band instruments and providing related services to students within many school districts across Western Michigan. In the past, it has done business with families from the Coopersville Area Public Schools (CAPS), the primary Defendant in this action.[1]

         WMBI alleges that in April of 2017, CAPS issued an Invitation to Bid (ITB) to band vendors, which informed the vendors that CAPS would select a single business to participate in the Parent Night at the start of the next school year. WMBI protested to the school superintendent, Veldman, that the policy was unlawful. CAPS' counsel responded that it could lawfully exclude vendors other than its chosen bidder.

         WMBI submitted a bid in response to the ITB. But it was not chosen-Meyer Music, a competitor of WMBI, was. From these scant facts, WMBI claims that CAPS violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         II. Legal Framework

         A complaint must contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing how the pleader is entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must include more than labels, conclusions, and formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A defendant bringing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether a cognizable claim has been pled in the complaint. Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must provide sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, are sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and the “claim to relief must be plausible on its face” Id. at 570. “A claim is plausible on its face if the ‘plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Ctr. for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         When considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all factual allegations, but need not accept any legal conclusions. Ctr. for Bio-Ethical Reform, 648 F.3d at 369. However, “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations”; rather, “it must assert sufficient facts to provide the defendant with ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Rhodes v. R&L Carriers, Inc., 491 Fed.Appx. 579, 582 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (emphasis added).

         III. Discussion

         A. First Amendment Framework

         The First Amendment prohibits the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.” U.S. Const. Amend. I. Simply because the government may own a piece of property, however, does not mean that property is open to all types of expressive activity at all times. “[T]he State, no less than a private owner of property, has power to preserve the property under its control for the use which it is ...


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