Sunday, October 30, 2011

Washington Supreme Court: Honking at neighbor who reported poultry to HOA is free speech

When you drive past another vehicle with a bumper sticker that urges you to honk if you love Jesus or the Zags or any number of other potential objects of affection, you might honk if so moved.

In all cases, you are exercising your First Amendment rights. At least in Washington state.

That’s what the state Supreme Court said last week in the somewhat interesting, somewhat bizarre case of State v. Helen Immelt, a Snohomish County woman who was ticketed for honking her horn in anger at her neighbor in 2006, in a dispute over chickens.

Immelt lived in a cul-de-sac that was part of a homeowners association, although she reportedly was unaware of the association’s covenants that banned the raising of chickens. She had some chicks in her garage; her neighbor, the association president, saw them and the group sent her a letter to get rid of the birds.

She figured out the neighbor was the one who turned her in, and the next morning drove by his house around 6 a.m. and blew her horn for a period of time described in court papers as five to 10 minutes. The honked-off neighbor called the sheriff’s office, which sent out a deputy to take the complaint and happened to be there when Immelt drove by again, and honked three times more. He gave chase, pulled her over and gave her a ticket for violating the county’s noise ordinance, which bans “noise which is a public disturbance” including “sounding of vehicle horns for purposes other than public safety.”
This isn't an HOA case per se, but has its origins in a petty Privatopian dispute.

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