Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Challenging Library's Shoes-required Rule

By Kevin Mahood
Dispatch Staff Reporter
Thursday, March 28, 2002

A federal judge yesterday booted a barefoot advocate's lawsuit against the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said the Downtown building is not trampling Pickerington software programmer Robert Neinast's constitutional rights by requiring him to wear shoes.

Rather than oppressing Neinast's right to free speech, Marbley said, the shoe requirement "promotes communication of the written word in a safe and sanitary condition.''

The judge found that Neinast's "intent to inform others about the benefits of being barefoot is a personal goal that bears little relation to a political, religious or ideological issue of public concern.''

The library argued that its shoes-required rule protects patrons from exposure to broken glass, blood, feces and semen, which are occasionally found on the library's floor. And, in most cases, it protects the library from lawsuits.

Neinast had been asked to leave the library for being barefoot on several occasions from 1997 to 2001. Last March, Neinast was given a one-day eviction from the library for coming to the library barefoot.

He sued, claiming he was being deprived of free-speech, liberty and due-process rights guaranteed by the First, Ninth and 14th amendments.

Neinast, who represented himself in the case, said he was unsure whether he would appeal Marbley's ruling.

"Of course I'm disappointed,'' Neinast said yesterday after the ruling. "I don't think he made the correct decision.''

Neinast said the ban on bare feet is designed to protect patrons from themselves, not from one another.

"If any bureaucrat can make a rule regarding health and safety, state parks could make everyone wear sunscreen,'' he said.

Library Director Larry D. Black, said, "We think the rules are reasonable and for the good of all our customers. I always expected to win. I just hate to see the library had to spend the money to defend itself.''

Black did not know how much the defense cost. The library has insurance for such cases, but it must pay the first $35,000 in legal fees, he said.

Neinast filed the suit in state court, but the library succeeded in having the case, a constitutional question, moved to federal court.

A federal appeals court previously upheld a library policy banning barefoot patrons and those with offensive hygiene, Marbley said.


Copyright © 2002, The Columbus Dispatch