CHICAGO (CN) - Two Hells Angels bikers cannot contest an unofficial ban against them from bars and restaurants in a small Illinois village, a federal judge ruled.
Gary Kohlman and Allen Roberts, who belong to the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, claimed that the mayor of Midlothian, a small village 25 miles south of Chicago, and its police chief, ordered local restaurants and bars to refuse them service because of their Hells Angels' membership and because they wear the gang's insignia and logos.
Federal and state law enforcement classify Hells Angels one of four outlaw motorcycle gangs in the United States, calling the club a conduit for criminal activity.
Midlothian Police Chief Vince Schavone felt the same way, and the officials together claimed that 20 years of bomb threats and police harassment from the Hells Angels left them with a "guarded view" of it and other motorcycle clubs that congregate in Midlothian, including the Axemen and the Tunnel Rats.
U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning framed the policy in question as follows: "Although it is not mandated by a Village ordinance, a number of bars in Midlothian prohibit patrons from displaying motorcycle club colors. These so-called 'no-colors' policies are presumably employed to reduce the potential for conflict between members of rival clubs."
"On the other hand, some Midlothian bars and clubs welcome bikers wearing their colors," she added. "For example, Jack's Place has no dress code and has never turned away a customer wearing motorcycle club colors."
But Kohlman and Roberts claimed the village is stamping out these bars with a vengeance. For example, Schavone threatened Jon Plowman, a co-owner of O'Leary's Pub, with revocation of his liquor license unless he banned "colors" in O'Leary's, they argue.
In his deposition, Plowman recalled Schavone's ominous words:
"This is not baseball," Schavone allegedly said. "You do not get three strikes. This will be your only warning. Get rid of the Hells Angels or I will get rid of you."
The bikers argued that this latent policy infringed Hells Angels' rights to equal protection, free speech and free assembly.
Although the court found that the plaintiffs had proved the state-action requirement for a constitutional civil rights case, it rejected all of their constitutional claims, beginning with the alleged denial of equal protection.
"Members of a motorcycle club do not belong to a protected class [such as a race or religion]," Manning wrote. As such, Kohlmann could prevail only by proving that "the state treated him differently than other similarly situated individuals and [...] there [was] no rational basis for the different treatment."
But "the plaintiffs fail to [demonstrate] that specific similarly situated individuals" - namely, members of other motorcycle clubs - "were treated differently," the ruling states.
Kohlman and Roberts' First Amendment claims suffered similar fates.
The First Amendment protects only "expressive conduct" that conveys a "particularized message [that] would be understood by those who viewed it," Manning explained.
But at his deposition, Roberts said he would not "expect anyone who is not a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to know what message [his insignia were] sending."
Because of this lack of expressive aims, the Hells Angels are not, as an organization, protected by the Free Assembly clause.
When Papa T's bar in Midlothian denied service to Kohlman and Roberts, "no evidence suggests that the plaintiffs intended to engage in expressive activity." "Instead, they appear to have visited Papa T's to socialize, eat, drink, and perhaps listen to an acoustical band or participate in a bean bag tournament in the beer garden," Manning wrote, citing Papa T's Beer Garden page http://www.papats.net/Midlo/BeerGarden.html#Mid.
The judge declined to assess whether Hells Angels is a club or a gang, noting that "there is no constitutional right to 'social association.'"
"The court appreciates that the plaintiffs are dissatisfied with the defendants' negative views of the Hells Angels," Manning wrote. "Nevertheless, the evidence identified by the plaintiffs is insufficient to create a triable issue of fact."