A free speech ‘puzzlement’: tattooing vs. HOAs

Echoing the thoughts of Yul Brynner in the 1956 King and I movie (Anna and the King of Siam), I’ve encountered a “puzzlement.”  In the just released 27 page opinion of the Arizona Supreme Court in Coleman v. The City of Mesa, No. CV-11-0351-PR, the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court must allow the tattoo artists to show that tattooing was a protected expression of free speech.  The City of Mesa had a discretionary zoning ordinance against tattooing establishments.  The higher court held that the trial court could not summarily dismiss the complaint as not having a questionable issue of law.

The complaint sufficiently sets forth claims for relief for alleged violations of the Colemans’ rights to free speech, equal protection, and due process. Whether they can prove those claims will depend on the course of proceedings in the trial court.

I will not go into the legal details of the court’s analysis, but allow me to make some comparisons with HOA free speech issues from the point of view of “consent to be governed” (not discussed in the opinion).  I refer to the pro-HOA arguments that continuing to live in your HOA is an implicit agreement to be bound by the ruling private HOA government under its pseudo-constitution and pseudo-laws. That argument, alone, the courts have repeatedly held, controls the homeowner’s consent to agree.

BUT, as we have in this case, shouldn’t operating a tattoo parlor in the City of Mesa be likewise viewed as an implicit consent to agree to city zoning ordinances, among other public laws?  And as such, haven’t the artists waived and/or surrendered their constitutional rights that they are now arguing that they still retain?  Like it is argued against HOA members? Apparently not, for the supreme court there are sufficient grounds to make such a legal argument (helped by the Goldwater Institute).

It’s a puzzlement.  Why two sets of legal doctrines?  One for the public and one for a class of citizens who live in HOAs?  A real puzzlement.


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  1. Interesting. California has a similar dichotomy: when an employee signs an employment agreement, the employer (some, not all) often wants the employee to, as a condition of employment, agree to give up certain rights (i.e., overtime). However, California courts have always upheld that that is THE LAW, and parties cannot agree to contract around the law, and that employees don’t actually give up that right, but (some) employers want them to think they have.

    What is different about HOAs? The same principles should apply.

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