Last week, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana issued an order granting the City of Missoula’s motion for summary judgment in a case challenging the constitutionality of its sign code.  The court found that the city’s code was content neutral as applied to the plaintiff, and that the code satisfied the Central Hudson intermediate scrutiny test for commercial speech regulations.

Carwerks, a used car dealership in Missoula, challenged the city’s sign code after the city issued several citations to Carwerks for placing helium balloons on its vehicles in violation of a code provision that prohibited banners, flags, pennants, streamers, spinners, and “other types of wind signs.”  Carwerks claimed that the sign code was content based and failed the Central Hudson test.  Carwerks took issue with two aspects of the ordinance:  first, that the code distinguished between commercial and noncommercial speech; and second, that the code’s definition of “sign” exempted window displays and national flags. Continue Reading Missoula, Montana Sign Code Withstands First Amendment Challenge

Last week, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a tattoo shop owner had standing to challenge Long Beach, California’s zoning regulations.  The regulations had the effect of precluding the owner from operating his business in Long Beach.

James Real, who owns a tattoo parlor in Huntington Beach, California, sought to open a tattoo parlor in Long Beach.  Long Beach’s zoning regulations do not allow tattoo parlors in most zoning districts in the city; require a conditional use permit for operation of a tattoo parlor; may not be located less than 1,000 feet from another tattoo shop, adult entertainment use, arcade, or tavern; and tattoo parlors’ business hours are strictly limited.  Real sought approval from the city to locate in one of three locations, but the city responded by informing Real that none of the locations allowed for a tattoo parlor.

Real filed suit under the First Amendment, alleging that his tattooing was First Amendment-protected activity, and that the city’s zoning regulations were not proper time, place, and manner regulations and constituted an unconstitutional prior restraint.  The district court held that Real did not have standing to challenge the zoning regulations because he had failed to apply for a conditional use permit. Continue Reading Ninth Circuit: Tattoo Parlor Owner Has Standing to Bring First Amendment Claims

The case involved a dispute between the Minnesota Tea Party and election judges. Source: MinnPost.

In February, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Minnesota district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the state, finding that the government could effectively prohibit political speech in polling places.  In a short decision, the court determined that speech by members of the Tea Party was properly restricted from polling locations.

Minnesota has a state statute that prohibits individuals from wearing political buttons or other insignia in polling places on election days.  The state issued a policy guide which was intended to assist election judges with the types of material that constituted political speech, which included “issue-oriented” material or material that promoted groups with political ends.  Failure to abide by the restriction could result in prosecution for a criminal misdemeanor.  The group that challenged the law included several members who wished to bear the insignia of the Tea Party in polling places. Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Affirms That Government Can Prohibit Political Speech in Polling Places

An advertisement for the organization Keep Chicago Livable states that home sharing is a “fundamental right,” yet the district court disagreed that home sharing implicated First Amendment rights.

Two weeks ago, a federal court in Illinois denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the City of Chicago’s recently-enacted short-term rental ordinance.  In its order, the court determined that the ordinance, which seeks to regulate individuals’ rental of units on Internet-based services such as Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway, did not affect the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to free speech.  The decision marks an interesting constitutional development in continued efforts by local governments to regulate short-term rentals.

In summer 2016, Chicago enacted what it calls the “shared housing ordinance,” or SHO.  The SHO requires hosts of units available for short-term rent to register their housing units with the city prior to listing their units on any Internet-based services.  Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway and other services are also required to register with the city.  As applied to individuals, the SHO imposes requirements on the services provided by the short-term rental, and also requires individuals to maintain guest registries, and post their licensing information at the unit. Continue Reading Chicago Short-Term Rental Ordinance Does Not Implicate First Amendment: Federal District Court

Last week, a federal district court in Massachusetts accepted a nude dancing establishment’s argument that the City of Chelsea violated the First Amendment in denying a building permit for renovations to the business’s premises.  In so doing, the court struck down the city’s adult business zoning regulations and directed the city to treat the establishment under other use classifications contained in the code.

Chelsea’s zoning code provides for several zoning districts, including industrial, highway business, shopping center, and retail commercial business districts.  The code allows for an “art use”, defined as “the creation, manufacture or assemblage of visual art, including two or three dimensional works of fine art or craft, or other fine art objects created, manufactured or assembled for the purpose of sale, display, commission, consignment or trade by artists or artisans; or classes held for art instruction,” in the industrial district, and by special permit in the retail business and highway business districts.  The code also allows for theater uses in the retail and shopping center districts, and adult entertainment uses in the highway commercial and shopping center districts.  Adult entertainment uses and theater uses are not allowed in the industrial district. Continue Reading Massachusetts Court Strikes Down Local Adult Business Regulations

We take a break from our regularly-scheduled programming to make an announcement on behalf of the Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association regarding a topic that may be of interest to some of our readers in the land use and municipal law worlds…

Webcast— Drone Technology: Implications on Policymaking and Design of the Built Environment

March 13, 2017

12:30 – 2:00 PM EDT

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The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Drone Technology: Implications on Policymaking and Design of the Built Environment on Monday, March 13, 2017 from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. EDT. Registration for individuals is $20 for PLD members and $45 for nonmembers. Registration for two or more people at one computer is $140.

The educational objective of this course is to discuss the implications of emerging drone technology on city and town planning. Featuring specialists in the fields of law, urban design, and policymaking, this webinar will examine federal and local legislation pertaining to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Drone operations raise several concerns for the public given their wide range of recreational and commercial current uses. We will discuss regulations pertaining to these issues and explore how future zoning regulations can best guide the use of drones in our built environment.

Speakers include Dwight Merriam, FAICP, of Robinson & Cole; Jordan Petersen, RLA, LEED AP, of ColeJenest & Stone; Timothy Yin, Director of Data and Privacy at Startup Policy Lab; and Daniel Bolin of Ancel Glink.

The Great Hall of the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport. Source: Denver Post.

Last week, a federal district judge in Colorado partially granted a motion for preliminary injunction filed by two individuals who sought to protest President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  The court found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim, which was filed in connection with demonstrations held at Denver International Airport immediately following the order.

Denver regulates First Amendment activities at its airport via a municipal regulation that requires demonstrators to first obtain a permit, which must be applied for no more than 30 and no less than seven days before the proposed activity.  In addition, any signs carried by protestors may not exceed one square foot, and picketing by more than two persons on items unrelated to a labor dispute is generally prohibited throughout the airport.  The chief executive officer of the airport has the discretion under the regulation to determine where protest activity may occur. Continue Reading Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Trump Immigration Ban Protest Case

The Taboo adult novelty store in Columbia, South Carolina. Source: thestate.com.

In an unpublished decision issued in late January, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Columbia, South Carolina regulation limiting the locations of adult businesses was a valid, content neutral regulation, applying what is commonly known as the “secondary effects” doctrine.  That doctrine allows local governments to specially regulate adult businesses in a content neutral manner on the grounds that such regulations counter the secondary effects—such as crime, prostitution, and neighborhood blight—of such businesses.

In December 2011, an adult business—“Taboo”—opened the only adult business establishment in Columbia, a book and novelty store.  That same month, Columbia enacted restrictions on adult businesses, including a 700-foot dispersal requirement from “sensitive” uses such as religious institutions, schools, parks, and residential uses, as well as a 1,000-foot dispersal requirement from other adult uses.  The regulations allowed a two-year amortization period in which an adult business in one of the restricted areas could operate before being shut down.  Taboo was located in one of the restricted areas, and continued to operate for the amortization period.  At the end of the amortization period, Taboo sued the city under the First Amendment. Continue Reading Secondary Effects Doctrine Lives On in Fourth Circuit Decision

This post was originally authored by Evan Seeman and Karla Chafee of Robinson + Cole, LLP.  Any views reflected in this post are the views of the original authors. 

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Thou shall have the right to an electronic sign?  Apparently not.  Just over a year ago, Hillside Baptist Church and Signs for Jesus (together, Plaintiffs or Church) filed a complaint in the District Court for New Hampshire, seeking a declaration that the Town of Pembroke’s (the Town) sign ordinance is unconstitutional both facially and as applied to the Plaintiffs.  The complaint alleged that the Town’s Ordinance banning the use of electronic signs in all but the Town’s commercial zoning district “restricts how the Church may proclaim a daily Biblical message while not restricting the medium of communicating state, municipal or school messages.”  Our post regarding the complaint is available here.

The Plaintiffs claimed that the Town’s limitation on electronic signs in all zones but the commercial zone, and the Town’s denial of the Church’s sign application violated its rights to Free Speech, Free Exercise of Religion, and Equal Protection, as well as RLUIPA’s substantial burden and equal terms provisions. Continue Reading RLUIPA Defense: Signs 4 JC Shown the Light by NH District Court

Last week, another local sign code was found content based and unconstitutional, this time in North Redington Beach, Florida.

A local business, Sweet Sage Café, was issued notices of violation for several alleged violations of the town’s sign code.  In response, the café filed First Amendment claims against the town, which is a small coastal community along the Gulf of Mexico.  The town’s sign code had several features of sign codes that are commonly understood to be unconstitutional post-Reed:

  • The town’s definition of “sign” had several arguably content based elements, including “Drawings of articles for sale on the premises that is related to the business and/or is intended to advertise or inform, rather than being merely aesthetic, shall be classified as a sign under this Chapter. The term does not include an official traffic control sign, official marker, national or state flags permitted by this Chapter, athletic scoreboards, or the official announcements or signs of government.”
  • The town exempted several types of signs from permitting on the basis of their message, including “national flags shown in accordance with the standards of the Adjutant General,” warning signs, murals, holiday decorations, memorial signs or tablets, garage sale signs, real estate open house signs, political campaign signs, “no trespassing” signs, and others.

The town issued notices of violation to Sweet Sage Café for a series of flip-flop sandal footprint decals Continue Reading Florida Town’s Sign Code Found to Violate First Amendment