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A Better Partnership
March 09, 2016

COA: Ordinance prohibiting noise that destroys peace and tranquility is unconstitutionally vague

The Michigan Court of Appeals, in the consolidated cases of People v. Gasper, No. 324150, People v. Smith, No. 324152, and People v. Lehnen, No. 328165, held that a Grand Rapids noise ordinance was unconstitutionally vague.  
 
Defendants were individuals associated with the Tip Top Deluxe Bar and Grille (“Tip Top”) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  They were prosecuted for their alleged violations of § 9.63(3) of the City of Grand Rapids Noise Ordinance, in connection with events occurring at Tip Top on various dates.  The officers who reported to Tip Top did not record the decibel level of the noise, instead relying on the departmental policy to strictly enforce noise violations if noise could be heard from a “public way” (i.e., the street).  Defendants argued and the district court agreed that § 9.63(3) was unconstitutionally vague because reasonable minds could differ regarding what “destroys the peace and tranquility” of a neighborhood, as provided in the statute.  Thus, there was no objective way for police to make that determination, and consequently, the owners and employees of Tip Top Bar had no way of knowing how loud its music could be.  The circuit court disagreed, finding that § 9.63(3) was not unconstitutionally vague.  It reasoned that § 9.63(3), when read in conjunction with other portions of the statute, specifically decibel limits referenced in § 9.63(11), provided notice to residents of maximum sound levels during the day and night, and how those levels would be measured.
 
The Court of Appeals, however, found that the existence of maximum decibel limits in § 9.63(11) does not aid a citizen in determining whether his or her conduct violates § 9.63(3) because a person could be cited for violating section (3) irrespective of compliance with section (11).  Therefore, it held § 9.63(3) of the City of Grand Rapids Noise Ordinance unconstitutional.

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