Lebanon mayor sued in federal court for blocking business owners from her social media page

Lebanon’s mayor has been sued in federal court for allegedly blocking people from posting critical or negative comments on her personal social media page by owners of a Lebanon business.

Last week, Kevin Snowden and Oley Snowden filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati seeking a judgment against Lebanon Mayor Amy Brewer, claiming she unconstitutionally violated their right to free speech and that she “acted under color of state law in maintaining her Facebook Page and banning plaintiffs from that page.”

Brewer did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. She has been on council for about 30 years and mayor for the past 20 years.

The Snowdens’ attorney, Joshua Engel, alleges Brewer uses her personal page while she is conducting official business as the city’s mayor and uses her official title in her postings. She also has another page that was used for her campaign, according to the lawsuit.

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The Snowdens co-own Lebanon Candy and Sports Cards on Mulberry Street, are active in local politics and have a particular interest in the actions of the city, according to the lawsuit. They were friends with Brewer for many years in “real life” and on Facebook, the lawsuit said.

In June 2020, the city blocked off the street in front of their business to create a socially distanced dining area during the pandemic. Oley Snowden called Brewer to complain about the impact on their business. After harsh words were exchanged, the lawsuit claims Brewer hung up and the Snowdens have not talked to Brewer since that conversation.

The Snowdens put signs in their business saying “Recall Mayor Brewer. She is Bad for Business” and circulated a petition with local businesses downtown. Brewer falsely accused the Snowdens of intimidating people into signing the petition, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit says the city of Lebanon has focused on issues of state and national significance and that Brewer in particular has been involved in issues such as COVID-19, gun control and abortion.

Brewer uses her Facebook page to communicate with constituents on public issues, the suit claims, and has the ability to block people from posting comments. The lawsuit said that Brewer has acknowledged blocking people or removing comments from people who disagreed with her positions.

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City Attorney Mark Yurick said because Brewer is being sued in her capacity as mayor of Lebanon, the city will defend her in this litigation. He said a preliminary hearing is scheduled in federal court on July 30.

Engel, who represents the Snowdens, said this is similar to what was done with President Donald Trump and his social media pages.

“Once you start using your private page for public business, you lose that expectation of privacy,” Engel said.

Engel said he believes his clients will prevail because similar complaints have been upheld by the Second, Fourth and Fifth U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals. He also said they opted to file the lawsuit in the federal court system as they were better suited to decide constitutional issues than state courts.

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