The Village of Downers Grove, Illinois survived federal and state law challenges to its sign code after a federal district court found the code to be content neutral under the standard articulated in the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  Plaintiff Robert Peterson owns a business called Leibundguth Storage & Van Service, Inc., which painted large signs advertising its business on the walls of its brick building in Downers Grove.  The village’s sign ordinance banned painted wall signs and limited the size and number of wall signs.  Peterson argued that the sign code was content based because it exempted government signs, railroad signs, address signs, noncommercial flags, real estate signs, and decorations, among other sign types, from the village’s permitting requirement.  

Applying Reed, the court found that the prohibition on painted wall signs to be a content neutral, time, place, and manner restriction, and further found that the village’s justification for the ban satisfied the requirements of intermediate scrutiny because the ban furthered the village’s stated interest in aesthetics.  Although the plaintiff challenged the village’s findings with respect to its aesthetic justification, the court found that the village had adequately documented the aesthetic concerns with painted wall signs.  

The court further found that the size, locational, and numerical restrictions on commercial signage were proper time, place, and manner restrictions.  Moreover, the court followed other post-Reed decisions that upheld the validity of the separate Central Hudson test for commercial speech regulations, thus distinguishing Reed with respect to special regulations for commercial speech.  Although the court implied that some of the code’s restrictions relating to noncommercial speech might be content based, the court rejected the plaintiff’s overbreadth challenge, because Peterson challenged only the commercial speech regulations contained in the village’s code.

Peterson v. Vill. of Downers Grove, ___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2015 WL 8780560 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 14, 2015)

Photo of Brian J. Connolly Brian J. Connolly

Brian Connolly represents public- and private-sector clients in matters relating to zoning, planning, development entitlements and other complex regulatory issues.  Brian’s practice encompasses a broad range of land use matters including zoning compliance, rezonings and other regulatory amendments, planned-unit developments, development agreements, private covenants and restrictions, land use and zoning litigation, initiatives and referenda associated with land use approvals, and real estate transactions.  Brian additionally specializes in the First Amendment and land use issues associated with outdoor sign and advertising regulation, and fair housing matters in local planning and zoning.