The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri recently sided with a St. Louis-area locality of 1,500 best known as the home of the events behind The Exorcist, upholding its sign code against a motion for preliminary injunction. The principle facts were these: the City of Bel-Nor code allows one double-faced stake-mounted yard sign per improved parcel. Plaintiff Lawrence Willson placed three such signs in his yard, a window sign near his front door asking first responders to rescue his pets, and an “Irish for a Day” flag in his garden. Bel-Nor cited him for violating the one-sign-per-yard ordinance, but did not take issue with the window sign or garden flag, although they too likely violated its sign code.
Lawrence, represented by the ACLU, sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin Bel-Nor from enforcing its entire sign code ordinance, arguing that the ordinance violated his Constitutional right to Free Speech. The district court rejected the request with a rote application of First Amendment principles.
First, the court concluded, the ordinance was not content-based as to Lawrence’s two offending signs, because it distinguished only among the number of signs, not the message displayed. Thus considering whether that portion of the ordinance was a valid time, place or manner restriction, the court approved the city’s interests in esthetics and traffic safety as significant.
Second, the court found the ordinance narrowly tailored to advance those interests, reasoning that (1) narrow tailoring did not require the city to employ the least restrictive means achieve its ends, (2) halting the proliferation of signs would prevent driver distraction in neighborhoods with many children, and (3) limiting such signs advanced the city’s esthetic interests by reducing visual clutter.
Third, the court also summarily rejected Lawrence’s contention that the ordinance was unconstitutionally overbroad, finding instead that Lawrence could not show the ordinance “significantly compromise[d] recognized First Amendment protections” of parties not before the court.
Concluding Lawrence had failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits, or any other serious reason as to why the preliminary injunction should issue, the court rejected the motion.