First Amendment right to chalk political messages on public sidewalks

Case Description

Anti-war activist Melissa Hill was detained by federal agents and had a trespass order issued against her by Federal Protective Services and other law enforcement officials after using erasable chalk to write an anti-war message on a public sidewalk.

On the morning of June 9, 2011, Hill was walking in downtown Minneapolis when she observed that a message written in chalk on a public sidewalk in front of the Old Federal Building located at 212 S. Third Ave., which originally read "Don't Enlist, Resist," had been partially erased so that it now simply read "Enlist." Hill was in the process of re-chalking the message to read "Don't Enlist, Resist" when she was detained, searched, and questioned by security guards, FPS agents, and a Minneapolis Police Department officer. The MPD issued Hill a trespass notice that prohibits her from entering the property of the Old Federal Building for a period of one year. Failure to comply with a trespass notice may result in arrest, a fine, or imprisonment.

On March 26, 2012, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against the Federal Protective Services, unknown and unnamed agents of the Federal Protective Services, the State of Minnesota, and the City of Minneapolis on behalf of anti-war activist Melissa Hill for violating her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

2013 Updates

On October 9, 2013, a settlement was reached with the parties involved. Terms of the settlement include written agreements that all of the parties involved which includes the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Police Department, Federal Protective Services, and DECO Security Services agree that writing on a public sidewalk with erasable chalk is not a crime and that they should not treat it as such. The defendants also agreed to pay a portion of the legal fees as part of the settlement agreement. 

On March 18, 2013, Chief Judge Michael J. Davis issued an order adopting the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation. The order granted in part and denied in part the federal defendants' motion to dismiss. Specifically, the federal district court dismissed claims against Federal Protective Services as an agency but allowed the claims against FPS agent Rodriguez to proceed.

The case is currently in its discovery phase after the federal district court denied in part the federal defendants' motion to dismiss.

2012 Updates

The complaint states that the defendants acted unlawfully in detaining Hill without probable cause and in issuing a trespass notice against her without legal justification. In the complaint, Hill asks for damages and a declaration that the trespass ordinances under which the trespass notice was issued are unconstitutional on their face and as applied.

United States Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan issued a Report and Recommendation on the motion to dismiss by the federal defendants in this case on December 26, 2012.


William Z. Pentelovitch from Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand, LLP

Date filed

March 26, 2012


United States District Court - District of Minnesota