Legal Center: Shaker Heights Threats to Tax-Increase Opponents Unconstitutional

Cleveland, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today filed suit in federal court on behalf of Shaker Heights residents whom city officials threaten to silence through threat of a frivolous trademark lawsuit. The threat comes in retaliation for the citizens’ opposition of the City of Shaker Heights’ attempt to increase income taxes on residents through an August 7 vote.

The legal action, filed on behalf of the Shaker Heights Taxpayers Union (“SHTU”), includes a demand for an immediate injunction prohibiting city officials from engaging in any further threats, intimidation, or retaliation in response to the taxpayers’ legitimate exercise of their constitutional rights.

Shaker Heights resident Mark Zetzer formed the SHTU to advocate against the City’s placement of a personal income tax increase on the August 7 ballot, arguing that Shaker Heights taxes were already the highest in the state. In addition Mr. Zetzer designed for the group a logo that parodies the City of Shaker Heights logo by replacing the City logo’s leaves with dollar signs, to represent City officials’ use of taxation as a first-resort (see the logo below).

Federal courts have repeatedly confirmed that the First Amendment trumps trademark law in the field of political speech. Nevertheless, just as Mr. Zetzer’s message was beginning to gain traction, the City of Shaker Heights sent Mr. Zetzer a “Demand to Cease and Desist,” threatening that “[f]ailure to stop [use of the SHTU logo] will result in the City taking legal action to protect its trademark, including a request for an award of damages.” In response, SHTU has been forced to stop using the logo in its campaign.

Despite the City’s claims, given the clarity of the law on this issue, the City’s trademark concerns are simply a pretext to silence the SHTU from hindering the City’s efforts to raise taxes on its citizens. The lawsuit seeks to restore the right of taxpayers to engage in these types of debates without fear of officious-sounding but frivolous threats and intimidation from their own government.

“This is an appalling attempt by city officials to silence anyone who stands in the way of their access to more of Shaker Heights residents’ earnings,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “These types of case are why we formed the 1851 Center: to prevent city official from bullying those trying to limit government, who they know don’t have the means to fight back on their own.”

Added Thompson, “the City was counting on the reality that an average citizen would not understand the frivolity of its threats, given the complexities of intellectual property law. This case will help ensure that other cities do not use official-appearing legal threats to masquerade their efforts to silence limited-government viewpoints in the heat of a local tax election.”

The logos at issue in this case are below:

L: City of Shaker Heights logo;  R: Shaker Heights Taxpayers Union logo


July 13, 2012: Federal judge to discuss potential court injunction against Shaker Heights by anti-tax increase group

July 13, 2012: Shaker Heights agrees to let Shaker Heights Taxpayers’ Union use city logo in its materials


The 1851 Center’s Complaint can be viewed here.

The 1851 Center’s can be viewed here.

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  1. […] competition and everyone is a “superstar”. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law issued a press release on Friday about a new lawsuit against the city of Shaker Heights that they are initiating in order […]

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