High Court Lets Ruling Against Bellingham Curfew Stand

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

In an order signed by Chief Justice Barbara Durham on May 12th, the Washington Supreme Court has decided not to review a 1997 Court of Appeals ruling that found unconstitutional the Bellingham juvenile curfew ordinance enacted in 1992.

The order leaves intact the unanimous 3-0 appeals court ruling invalidating the Bellingham curfew ordinance in the case of State v. Doidge. A Whatcom County Superior Court Commissioner had previously ruled the local law unconstitutional in 1994. The high court's action also leaves unchanged its prior ruling in Seattle v. Pullman, finding that city's juvenile curfew law unconstitutional in 1973.

In 1993, police broke the arm of 15-year-old James Doidge of Bellingham while arresting him to enforce the local curfew law. Medical attention for the child's broken arm was delayed overnight while he was in police custody, and he required emergency surgery the next day. The City has paid $20,000 in civil damages for the harm it inflicted while enforcing its ordinance. It is unknown how much money the city has expended in creating, enforcing and, finally, unsuccessfully defending it all the way up to the state Supreme Court.

Some four dozen Washington muncipalities have enacted nonemergency curfews that have no support in any of the case rulings of the courts of Washington.

"This action by the Supreme Court should make clear to these other cities that they must change their laws to conform with the rulings of our state courts. Nonemergency curfew laws wrongly make it a crime for law-abiding citizens simply to be outside, and they interfere with the rights of parents to supervise their own children," said Kathleen Taylor, ACLU of Washington Executive Director. She added, "Cities will risk being sued for enforcing unconstitutional measures, and that can cost taxpayers a lot of money."

The ACLU-WA intends to inform Washington cities with curfew ordinances about the Supreme Court's order and urge them to repeal these unconstitutional laws.