Sam Shaw and one of his signs. Source: Indiana Public Media.

Last week, a federal district court in Indiana ruled that the enforcement of the City of Bedford’s sign ordinance would not be enjoined, finding that the sign code was content neutral, supported by a significant governmental interest, and narrowly tailored.  The court’s denial of the preliminary injunction indicates that the ordinance is likely to survive constitutional scrutiny. Continue Reading Indiana Town’s Sign Ordinance Withstands Motion for Preliminary Injunction

One of International Outdoor’s billboards in the Detroit area. Source: International Outdoor.

Late last month, a federal court in Michigan granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss First Amendment claims filed by a billboard company, International Outdoor, against the City of Troy.  The billboard company claimed that Troy’s sign ordinance was content based and unconstitutional, and that it imposed an unconstitutional prior restraint.  The city moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims, and further argued that the billboard company lacked standing to bring the claims.

The court first reviewed the city’s challenge to International Outdoor’s standing, which asserted that International Outdoor failed to plead redressability.  In a short response, the court held that, because the challenge was a facial challenge to the entire sign ordinance, if the court were to strike down the entire ordinance, the plaintiff’s injury would be redressed. Continue Reading Billboard Company’s Challenge to Michigan Sign Code Survives Motion to Dismiss

Dairy cows at Ocheesee Creamery. Source: Institute for Justice.

Some questions probably never need to be answered, and the universe of such questions might include the question: “what exactly is skim milk?” In a decision that sheds light on the current state of the commercial speech doctrine—and which may provide some helpful guidance for our local government readers—the Eleventh Circuit additionally provides some good analysis of low-fat dairy products. Continue Reading What is Skim Milk? Eleventh Circuit Provides Some Insight in Commercial Speech Decision

This weekend (May 6th-9th, 2017) brings us to the American Planning American’s National Conference in New York City.  Along with colleagues from around the country, we’ll be talking about everything land use and the First Amendment, from signs to adult businesses, religious land uses, and the public forum doctrine.  If you’re planning to be at the conference, please join us for the following panel presentations:

  • On Monday, May 8 at 4:15 p.m. ET, Brian Connolly will join Evan Seeman of Robinson & Cole and Noel Sterrett of Mauck & Baker in a presentation entitled “Planning and Zoning for First Amendment-Protected Land Uses,” which focus on sign regulation, regulation of religious land uses, and adult business regulation, among other interesting topics.  The speakers recently co-wrote an article that appeared in the newsletter of the American Planning Association’s Planning & Law Division on these topics, which can be found here.
  • On Tuesday, May 9 at 7:45 a.m. ET, Brian Connolly and Alan Weinstein, professor of planning and law at Cleveland State University, will present on “Planners and the Public Realm: Legal Rights and Planning Issues,” which will dive more deeply into the public forum doctrine and the opportunities and constitutional limitations associated with planning for public spaces.

We look forward to seeing many of our friends and readers in New York!

In a case that we reported on last year, a federal district court in California granted summary judgment in favor of the City of San Diego in a case involving art murals.

Some of the facts of the case are reported in our prior post.  The San Diego sign code exempts from permitting “[p]ainted graphics that are murals, mosaics, or any type of graphic arts that are painted on a wall or fence and do not contain copy, advertising symbols, lettering, trademarks, or other references to the premises, products or services that are provided on the premises where the graphics are located or any other premises.”  Otherwise, all signs visible from the right of way are required to obtain a permit, and signs on city-controlled property must obtain a permit as well.  Messages on city-controlled property are limited to on-premises speech and “public interest” messages.  As we previously noted, the plaintiff, a mural company, was granted approval to place two wall murals in San Diego, but received a violation for the placement of a third mural.  The plaintiff believes that the annual Comic-Con event was given special treatment by the city, because certain signs posted around the city during the event were not issued citations. Continue Reading San Diego’s Motion for Summary Judgment Granted in Mural Case

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

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. 

hillside-sign

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

Wagner’s sign in Garfield Heights. Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Ohio district court’s decision to permanently enjoin the enforcement of the City of Garfield Heights’s sign code.  The court found that the sign code’s restriction of “political signs” to six square feet was content based and unconstitutional.

The case began in September 2011, when local resident Frank Wagner wanted to protest a local councilwoman’s support of traffic cameras and a waste disposal tax.  Wagner placed a sixteen-square foot sign in his front yard that called out the councilwoman.  Continue Reading Ohio City Loses Political Sign Battle

A tattered campaign sign on a D.C. lamppost. Source: Washington Times.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit determined that Washington, D.C.’s regulation of event-based signage on public lampposts is not content based.  On its face, the court’s decision appears to conflict with one of the central holdings of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  But the lengthy, well-written opinion made significant efforts to distinguish the case from Reed, and the D.C. Circuit’s decision potentially offers new avenues for local governments to control proliferations of signage.

Washington, D.C. has long regulated signage on public lampposts. Continue Reading In Apparent Departure From Reed, D.C. Circuit Says Event-Related Sign Restrictions Are Not Content-Based