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Law > News Hits

The art of victory

Grosse Pointe art dust-up gets a First Amendment win


Published 9/2/2009

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The Grosse Pointe Park ordinance used to prosecute an artist's husband because paintings were displayed in the couple's yard is unconstitutional, a Wayne County judge has ruled.

Score one for the First Amendment.

Erica Chappuis and her husband, Laurent Chappuis, have displayed her colorful pieces at their house for years, and dog walkers, bike riders and other passers-by often stop to admire, discuss and ask about them. But the city didn't appreciate them, saying they violated an ordinance and ordering they be removed.

When the Chappuises refused, the city charged Laurent with violating the city code.

After a November 2007 trial in Grosse Pointe Park Municipal Court, Judge Carl Jarboe found Chappuis guilty in October. Chappuis immediately appealed to Wayne County Circuit Court. In a January hearing before Judge Bruce Morrow, the attorney representing the city contended that Grosse Pointe Park requires permits for signs for public safety reasons, and that, under the statute, paintings are signs.

Morrow, who has art hanging in his courtroom, issued a brief but effective ruling last week. He found the city ordinance to be "unconstitutionally vague" and reversed the Grosse Pointe Park Municipal Court ruling that found the Chappuises in violation of the city code.

"The Wayne County Circuit Court has confirmed valuable Constitutional principles that protect everyone's ability to express themselves on their own property without fear that a vague statutory regime could be applied to squelch that expression," says William Burdett, the Chappuises' attorney.

City attorney Dennis Levasseur says city officials have not made any decisions about a next step, whether that be an appeal or a rewrite of the code.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or

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