Earlier this month, a federal district court in Kansas awarded summary judgment to a plaintiff who claimed that the City of Williamsburg’s sign code violated the First Amendment.
The plaintiff, Eric Clark, placed several signs and other objects in a city right-of-way easement. The city issued a notice of violation, which set off a series of interactions between the city’s code enforcement officer and Clark, and Clark issued several letters to the city claiming various violations of his civil rights. Although the city desisted from further enforcement action, Clark, representing himself, filed a lawsuit against the city.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court ruled that Clark had standing to sue. Despite the city’s non-enforcement of the code, the court found that the city’s issuance of the notice of violation was sufficient injury as to confer standing on Clark. Turning to the merits of the case, the court ruled that the city’s sign code was unconstitutional. The city had sign code provisions pertaining to “political signs,” allowing such signs only in the time period around an election and limiting their size. Following Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the court observed that the treatment of political signs was based entirely on the signs’ content. The court applied strict scrutiny, finding that the city’s asserted interests in traffic safety and aesthetics were not compelling. The court agreed to sever the political sign provisions from the remainder of the code.
The court went on to deny Clark’s class-of-one Equal Protection Clause claim, his Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure claim, and his inverse condemnation claim.