Begging in public is protected speech in Michigan

Posted by & filed under Civil Rights, Criminal Law.

Speet, et al. v. Schuette     No. 12-2213

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This case involved the Michigan “disorderly persons” statute which makes it a crime to be found begging in a public place. MCL 750.167(1)(h)

The Grand Rapids Police Department has produced four hundred and nine incident reports related to its enforcement of the Michigan anti-begging statute. In this case, two of these men sued for injunctive relief and claimed that the law was facially invalid because it was a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The Sixth Circuit explained, “in a facial challenge, a plaintiff must show substantial overbreadth: that the statute prohibits ‘a substantial amount of protected speech both in an absolute sense and relative to [the statute’s] plainly legitimate sweep[.]’”

Further, a facial challenge based on substantial overbreadth “describe[s] a challenge to a statute that in all its applications directly restricts protected First Amendment activity and does not employ means narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest.”

To succeed in an overbreadth challenge, therefore, a plaintiff must “demonstrate from the text of [the statute] and from actual fact that a substantial number of instances exist in which the [statute] cannot be applied constitutionally.”

The Sixth Circuit noted that the United States Supreme Court has not directly decided the question of whether the First Amendment protects soliciting alms when done by an individual. However, the Supreme Court has held—repeatedly—that the First Amendment protects charitable solicitation performed by organizations.

In addition, the Court agreed with other Courts of Appeal that charitable appeals for funds, on the street or door to door, involve a variety of speech interests—communication of information, the dissemination and propagation of views and ideas, and the advocacy of causes—that are within the protection of the First Amendment.”

The Court also agreed with the Seventh Circuit when they wrote, “like organized charities, [the panhandlers’] messages cannot always be easily separated from their need for money,” and “[there is] little reason to distinguish between beggars and charities in terms of the First Amendment protection for their speech.”

After comparing beggars to charitable organizations which solicit funds, the Court held that “begging, or the soliciting of alms, is a form of solicitation that the First Amendment protects.”


Having determined that begging is constitutionally protected speech, the Sixth Circuit then needed to decide whether Michigan’s anti-begging statute is “substantially overbroad.” For the Court to determine whether the statute is substantially overbroad, a plaintiff must demonstrate from the text of the statute and from actual fact that a substantial number of instances exist in which the law cannot be applied constitutionally.

Here, the Court stated, “Instead of a few instances of alleged unconstitutional applications, we have hundreds. The Grand Rapids Police Department produced four hundred nine incident reports related to its enforcement of the anti-begging statute.” The Court also found that, “if left on the books, the statute would chill a substantial amount of activity protected by the First Amendment.”

In a message to Michigan lawmakers, the Court noted that “Michigan may regulate begging.” But Michigan must regulate begging with ‘due regard for the reality that solicitation is characteristically intertwined with informative and perhaps persuasive speech seeking support for particular causes or for particular views on economic, political, or social issues.”

Bankrupt debtor, postpetition transfer, and hole-in-one?

Posted by & filed under Bankruptcy case.

Annas v. Allard, 272 B.R. 633

This case is a little older, but a great start to this blog.

If you are considering bankruptcy, you should consult with an attorney to help you navigate any complex issues that can come up. The Law Office of Jacob High can assist you. We are a law firm and debt relief agency, and we help people file for bankruptcy under the Bankruptcy Code.


In early September, 1999, the debtor was golfing with three friends when they realized that the golf course had a tournament prize for anyone who hit a hole-in-one.  Prior to swinging, the four men promised that they would split any prize that they won. Debtor swung, and his golf game was very good that day— he hit a hole-in-one and won a brand new Cadillac Escalade valued at almost $36,000.

By late September, debtor’s luck had run out, and he filed bankruptcy.  As of the petition date, Debtor had not yet received the Cadillac; an investigation was pending by the insurance company retained by the tournament and liable under a policy to purchase the Cadillac from Don Massey Cadillac if a participant made a hole-in-one on the 8th hole. Once debtor received his prize (after filing bankruptcy), debtor was true to his word. Debtor and another of his golfing buddies, Annas, divided the value of the car evenly between the four. Each man received their share of the value of the prize.

At the Section 341 meeting of creditors, the Trustee inquired about his prize. The Trustee then sent notice to each of the other three golfing buddies requesting the return of their share of the prize money. The trustee claimed that the money paid to the other three was property of the debtor’s estate on the date of his bankruptcy petition, and that the debtor improperly transferred them money from estate assets, giving rise to an avoidance action under 11 U.S.C. 549(a). (This section allows a trustee to get money or property back.)

The District Court had to decide whether there was an unauthorized transfer of property of the estate to the debtor’s golfing buddies (whom the court considers creditors) after the debtor filed bankruptcy. As a general rule in bankruptcy, creditors are paid pro-rata based on their priority as defined in the Bankruptcy Code.

First, the Court found that the debtor and the golfing buddies did not have an equal ownership interest in the prize. Instead, debtor won the prize, and the “debtor liquidated his individual interest in the vehicle immediately upon possession.”

Second, the Court found that the golfing buddies did not obtain an ownership interest in the Cadillac by virtue of their oral agreement to share any prizes won at the tournament. Instead, the District Court agreed with the Bankruptcy court that “the conduct of Debtor and Appellants is more indicative of their intent to share the value of the car rather than its ownership.”

Third, the Court found that the agreement between the parties had sufficient consideration, but the debtor could not perform until he gained possession of the Cadillac.

The Court then cited another case:

“[w]hen it is the nonbankrupt party who has substantially performed so that its failure to complete performance would not constitute a material breach excusing performance of the debtor, the nonbankrupt party is relegated to the position of a general creditor of the bankrupt estate.”

In other words, the golfing buddies were simply creditors of the debtor. As creditors, they were recipients of the value of estate property (the car) after the debtor filed bankruptcy.

As a result, Trustee was entitled to avoid the transfer of the Cadillac from Debtor to Annas and the payments of $9,000 made to Carreri and DeAngelo under 11 U.S.C. § 549(a) as unauthorized postpetition transactions.