It's legal to resell tickets to Seattle sporting events, but one man has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, saying he has been harassed by off-duty police officers working for the Seattle Mariners.
When the Seattle Mariners play at Safeco Field, Will Anderson can often be found selling tickets on the corner of First Avenue South and Edgar Martinez Way.
Anderson, a 40-year-old portrait photographer who sells tickets for extra money, says he conducts business on private property not owned by the Mariners. Even so, he says his tickets have been seized and that he has been repeatedly cited by off-duty officers for selling tickets in a no-vending zone or for selling without a permit, which the city has refused to issue him.
“I sell tickets where it’s legal to sell tickets,” said Anderson, a father of two. “This most definitely impacts my life — you invest your money in something, and somebody keeps taking your investment away and making you start over.”
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Anderson recently filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the city, the Mariners and several off-duty police officers violated his constitutional rights through unreasonable searches and seizures. The suit also accuses police of selective enforcement by targeting scalpers like Anderson “in order to reduce or eliminate ticket sales competition with the Mariners.”
Notified of Anderson’s lawsuit three weeks ago, neither the Mariners nor the city has yet filed a response in court.
In 2005, it became legal in Seattle to resell tickets to sporting and entertainment events. There are at least three city ordinances that restrict the sale of certain goods around Safeco Field and Qwest Field, along with goods that can be sold by “mobile vendors.” But there’s nothing in the Seattle Municipal Code that specifically addresses ticket selling.
Anderson figures police have taken “easily over 100 tickets” off him in the last four years.
He’s also faced criminal charges for reselling tickets, but all charges were later dismissed, either for lack of evidence or because a judge ruled that off-duty officers didn’t have the authority to enforce an ordinance that until recently fell under the authority of the city’s transportation department, according to Anderson’s attorney, Tim Ford.
Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale said the team doesn’t view scalpers as competition and doesn’t have a problem with people selling tickets, so long as it doesn’t happen on Mariners property. Off-duty officers, who are paid by the team, are there to enforce all laws, maintain order and access to Safeco Field entrances, and keep aggressive ticket sellers from harassing fans, Hale said.
“It’s a small percentage of tickets sold that go through that secondary marketplace, so we don’t have a profit motive here,” she said. “If they would abide by the ordinance and not sell around Safeco Field or on Seattle Mariners property, we’re fine with them continuing to ply their trade.”
Suzanne Skinner, a deputy city attorney, said tickets can’t be sold “in the area around the stadiums for 24 hours before an event.”
The rule is “a limit on time and place, but it’s not a de facto anti-scalping law. It’s just a restriction,” Skinner said. “If they were not in that particular zone and were in a zone that allows vending, they could do it.”
But figuring out where and how to legally sell tickets is confusing, given the number of ordinances at play.
For instance, the ordinance that created a no-vending zone around Safeco Field makes it unlawful for on-foot vendors to sell or peddle any goods other than newspapers, magazines, event programs and similar publications, according to the municipal code.
Another ordinance requires a permit to sell goods near the stadium but outside the no-vending zone, but those permits can be issued only for vendors selling food, nonalcoholic beverages or flowers, said Rick Sheridan, a spokesman for the city’s transportation department, which issues the permits. (Anderson said he applied to the city for a permit but was turned down.)
Yet another ordinance restricts “mobile vending” — selling any goods but publications — in a public place “while walking, moving from place to place, using a mobile cart, using a vehicle, or by any other mobile method” in areas around the stadiums, parts of Pioneer Square and the University District, and within 1,000 feet of schools and 200 feet of parks, the code says.
Anderson’s lawsuit alleges that the city “does not generally and even handedly enforce the mobile vending ordinance, but it allows its off-duty police officers to do so as employees of the Mariners and other, for-profit sports teams, in areas where those teams want to suppress secondhand ticket sales.”
In 2003, the city enacted a mobile-vending ordinance that was so broadly written it permitted authorities to go after ticket sellers.
The following year, a Municipal Court judge ruled that two accused scalpers were victims of selective enforcement since the Mariners baseball club was essentially doing the same thing online, by facilitating the selling and buying of tickets by fans on its Web site.
The city’s ordinance that made scalping a gross misdemeanor was repealed in 2005. A revised law signed by Mayor Greg Nickels made scalping legal that June.
Despite the change in city law, Anderson’s lawsuit alleges that he was illegally searched six times between June 2006 and last April. His tickets were seized and he was cited four times for selling them in the no-vending zone or without a permit, but those charges were dismissed, the lawsuit says.
“This law is supposed to be enforced by the (Seattle) Department of Transportation, not the police and certainly not police officers getting paid by a private entity,” Ford said. “To me, this is a case of a big corporation using police to put its competition out of business.”
According to Ford, a Municipal Court judge in 2007 tossed a number of criminal cases against scalpers after ruling that off-duty officers’ enforcement activities around the stadiums weren’t legally authorized.
Then in 2008, the city’s transportation director delegated enforcement authority to the Police Department.
But according to Ford, a legal question remains as to whether that authority “extends to police being paid by private corporations” such as the Mariners.
Skinner, the deputy city attorney, said it does because officers are “essentially on duty 24/7.”
“So, yes, they have the power to enforce the law, even if they’re off duty,” she said.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com