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.

The Bedford sign ordinance was challenged by an individual, Sam Shaw, who sought to display political signs, which were characterized by some as “offensive and mean-spirited,” in his yard.  The ordinance contained sign classifications based on certain physical characteristics, i.e. flags, temporary signs, and permanent signs, with size, height, and setback requirements.  The sign ordinance also prohibited permanent signs in residential yards.  Although the plaintiff conceded that the ordinance was content neutral, he challenged the law based on the underlying governmental interests and narrow tailoring.

Reviewing the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction, the district court agreed that the government’s stated interests in aesthetics and traffic safety were sufficient to support the sign ordinance.  Although the plaintiff argued that the total prohibition on permanent signs was not narrowly tailored to the city’s interests, the court deferred to the city’s aesthetic and traffic safety judgments that permanent signs could have greater impact than temporary signs.  The court also found that the ordinance provided ample alternative channels for communication, because the ordinance allowed the display of temporary signs.

Shaw v. City of Bedford, ___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2017 WL 2880117 (S.D. Ind. Jul. 6, 2017).