Issues and Cases

Nebraska tries to foreclose on First Amendment rights

Young v. Ricketts, et al.

Contact: Anastasia Boden

Status: Briefing on appeal was completed on July 22, 2015. Oral argument held on December 15, 2015. On June 9, 2016, The Court ruled that Ms. Young’s advertising business was the conduct of real estate brokerage, subject only to rational basis scrutiny. The court went on to hold that the licensing laws were constitutional as applied to her because she was holding herself out as a real estate broker.

Summary:
Leslie Young, PLF clientLeslie Young operates a business called Elist.me, which posts information by homeowners seeking to sell their homes. These posts are then published on websites operated by various news organizations. Young does not offer the homeowners real estate sales services, is not paid on commission, and is never contacted by potential buyers or their agents. She simply posts information provided to her by homesellers in a database that feeds information to websites. Nevertheless, she has been served with cease-and-desist letters by the State of Nebraska, on the grounds that she is practicing real estate without a license.

The cease and desist order states that she is “advertising for sale real property located in the state of Nebraska,” which, it the state claims, qualifies her as a “broker” under the Real Estate License Act, and requires a license.

Representing Ms. Young in federal court, PLF attorneys argue that, because she is solely engaged in the publication of information, she is no more a real estate agent than a newspaper is when it publishes classified ads. Her activities are fully protected First Amendment speech. Thus, if her activities qualify as the practice of real estate under Nebraska law, PLF argues that the statute operates as a prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment. In addition, because the licensing restriction does not protect public health, safety, and welfare, but simply protects established businesses against legitimate competition, it violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

 

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