CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Bigfoot's right to romp around Mount Monadnock — and against a state regulation governing special events at parks.
The court ruled unanimously Friday that the language of the regulation is so broad it would apply to six people holding a private prayer service, three people carrying campaign signs at a mountain's peak or even a lone protester.
Keene entrepreneur Jonathan Doyle and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union Foundation appealed after state park officials barred Doyle, an amateur filmmaker, from wearing his monkey costume and interviewing other hikers about a Bigfoot sighting at Mount Monadnock in September 2009.
Park officials said Doyle had failed to pay $100 for a special-use permit 30 days in advance and secure a $2 million bond, as required by the regulation. The permit regulation applies to all properties operated by the state Department of Resources and Economic Development.
The court says the regulation violates constitutional free speech rights by requiring someone to get a permit 30 days in advance for any "organized or special events which go beyond routine recreational activities."
The justices called the regulation "panoptic"— including in one view everything in sight.
The regulation, the court said, "is unconstitutional in a substantial number of its applications and is thereby overbroad."
NHCLU director Barbara Keshen called the ruling a "strong affirmation of people's First Amendment rights to express themselves politically and artistically."
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Mavrogeorge, who argued to uphold the regulation, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Doyle said he was uncertain how the court would rule and had some doubts along the way about taking on the state.
"I'm very happy and pleased," Doyle said Friday. He added he will return to Monadnock in costume the first chance he gets.
Doyle first wore his Bigfoot costume on the top of Monadnock on Sept. 6, 2009, and interviewed random hikers about what they saw. Those interviewed went along with the skit — some feigning fear and awe — and Doyle posted his video on YouTube.
He planned to make a movie, "The Capture of Bigfoot," which The Keene Sentinel newspaper wrote about. Park manager Patrick Hummel saw the story and emailed a supervisor under the subject line, "Bigfoot problem on Monadnock ... not kidding," according to court documents. In another email, Hummel wrote, "Why does this mountain attract these time wasters?"
On Sept. 19, 2009, Doyle returned to the mountain with other people in hopes of making the film. Doyle was dressed in casual clothing to film the movie, while a friend wore the gorilla costume and two other people wore costumes. Hummel intercepted the party on the mountain and told them they would need a permit to continue, setting in motion the lawsuit filed in March.
The state prevailed on a summary judgment motion in May. Lawyers for the state argued the permit requirement for organized events is applied fairly and is designed to enhance public enjoyment of the state's parks "free from unwelcome or unwarranted interference, annoyance or danger."
Merrimack Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler ruled that Doyle's film "was far more than a simple attempt at spontaneous expression. It was a full-fledged commercial production."
The Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying the regulation encompasses "numerous circumstances that have no relation to DRED's significant interests."