News 27

Employment Attorneys Serving Northern and Central New Jersey

On May 12, 2015, United States District Court Judge Freda Wolfson denied in substantial part a motion to dismiss the amended complaint filed on September 19, 2014 in Trenton, N.J. federal district court in Morgan v. Martinez, 3:14-cv-02468-FLW-LHG.  Jon Green, acting as local counsel to Americans United for Separation of Church and State of Washington, D.C., filed suit  on behalf of Shannon Morgan who contended that her rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution had been violated because the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission refused to accept her on-line application for a vanity license plate that would have read “8THEIST”.  When she then typed in the word “BAPTIST” on the Motor Vehicle Commission website, that application was accepted.  Ms. Morgan did not purchase a vanity license plate with the word “BAPTIST”.  She then followed up with an email, telephone calls and a letter sent return receipt requested to the Motor Vehicle Commission ("MVC") that went unanswered as to why her request to place the word “8THEIST” on her license plate was objectionable.  She initially filed suit in April 2014.  The MVC filed a motion to dismiss contending that 1) it would honor a second paper request after her lawsuit had been filed for the license plate she sought and 2) that the on-line denial of her license plate application was a 'computer glitch' that had be rectified; and 3) that she had no viable lawsuit because she could then purchase the personalized license plate that read "8theist".  Ms. Morgan applied some time later on line for the same license plate and was again denied for the same exact reason.  Ms. Morgan alleged in her amended complaint that the computer glitch was not fixed and that the regulation that gave the MVC authority to deny an application for personalized plates based on "connotations offensive to good taste and decency" was overbroad and violated on its face the First Amendment's free speech guarantee. Judge Wolfson agreed with Ms. Morgan's attorneys' arguments when denying the MVC's motion except for ruling that Ms. Morgan's claim that the regulation gave the MVC "unbridled discretion" was duplicative of her other First Amendmen claims in the complaint.  The case will now proceed to the discovery phase