A federal judge in Pennsylvania ordered a trial on Thursday to determine whether a municipality can compel a tenant’s eviction after she makes a large number of 911 calls, after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a ‘test case’ for a Norristown woman who faced the borough’s three strikes law that called for the eviction of a tenant who calls 911 three times in four months, according to ABC News and The Associated Press.
The case will be a balancing test between encouraging safe neighborhoods and rights of free speech.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said he believes that this "complex and novel" case will make its way to federal appeals court.
There are hundreds of such rules in place in municipalities the U.S., says the ACLU.
According to the ACLU, regulations like Norristown’s three strikes law can harm victims of domestic violence and chill their free speech rights. They sought a test case and learned of single mother and Norristown resident Lakisha Briggs. Briggs is a nursing assistant who was living in a row home under a subsidized rent program.
In the suit, the ALCU claims that this kind of ordinance affects women more than men, and that the federal Violence Against Women Act protects women’s housing rights.
After a renter who lives in Norristown calls 911 three times within four months, the borough’s three strikes ordinance consequently fines his landlord and directs the landlord to evict the tenant. According to Norristown officials, such an ordinance seeks to cut down on nuisance calls and to protect neighborhoods from disruption.
Norristown police were called to come to Briggs' home 10 times during the first five months of 2012, according to court documents.
There were several police calls stemming from arguments with Briggs’ 21-year-old daughter and other people. After Briggs’ ex-boyfriend allegedly attacked her last year, she was scared to call police. Her neighbor eventually called and Briggs was airlifted to the hospital.
"I felt like I was being punished for being assaulted," Briggs told The Associated Press in August.
Robreno did not accept the borough's motion to dismiss the lawsuit at Thursday’s hearing. He also rejected the ACLU's bid for a temporary injunction, being that Norristown officials decided not to act against Briggs via her landlord. The landlord, Darren Sudman, indicated that Briggs was a good tenant. Briggs has moved.