In an effort to curb visual clutter and reduce litter, Chicago’s sign ordinance has, since 2007, prohibited posting “commercial advertising material” on city-owned property. No longer, however. Writing recently, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois struck
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.…
Continue Reading Tiny Enclave’s One-Sign Rule Survives Initial Constitutional Challenge
Last month, a federal district court in Pennsylvania found that a billboard company’s challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s highway advertising law sufficiently stated a claim for relief and could proceed to further stages of litigation.
Pennsylvania’s highway advertising law contains a general prohibition on sign structures within 500 feet of a highway interchange…
After years of extending the power of aldermanic privilege to oversized billboard approvals, the Chicago city council recently dispatched with an aspect of that practice, to the evident disappointment of at least one of its beneficiaries. Under that longstanding policy, an alderman (Chicago’s term for a city council member) could recommend, and the council would order, that the city’s building commissioner issue or deny a permit for an oversized billboard proposed in the alderman’s ward—the requirements of the city’s zoning ordinance notwithstanding. In an effort to create a more cohesive scheme, however, the city council recently eliminated the portion of that policy which had allowed it to order approval of oversized billboards conflicting with the zoning ordinance.
This change created something of a predicament for Image Media Advertising because it also repealed the council’s prior approval of several Image Media signs, and the city’s building commissioner refused to…
Continue Reading District Court Rejects (Most) Challenges to Change in Chicago Sign Regulation Practice
A local nuclear power activist, who expresses concern about the possibility of a nuclear meltdown at a Massachusetts nuclear power, watched his First Amendment claims against the Town of Rowley “melt down” late month. A federal district court in Massachusetts entered judgment on the pleadings in favor of the town, finding it did not engage in viewpoint discrimination, retaliation, or selective enforcement.
Stephen Comley, a town resident, posted signs in public right-of-ways throughout the town pertaining to his concerns about safety at the Seabrook Power Plant. In 2015, Comley appeared before the town’s governing body to demand that the town take action against the power plant. Following Comley’s appearance before the town board, he noticed that his signs began disappearing from the public right-of-ways, which reportedly hosted several other signs relating to elections and other subjects. He then brought First Amendment claims for viewpoint discrimination, retaliation, and selective enforcement.…
Continue Reading Massachusetts Town Prevails in Nuclear Power Protest Case
Webcast— Special Topics in Planning and the First Amendment: Signs, Adult Businesses, Religious Land Uses, and More
December 14, 2017
1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EDT
CM | 1.50 | Law
CLE 1.50 through Illinois State Bar
The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Special…
Last week, a federal district court in Nevada ruled on the City of Reno’s motion to dismiss several claims brought against it by a billboard company and landowner relating to the placement of off-premises billboards in the city.
The plaintiffs in the case are a billboard company called Strict Scrutiny Media (which perhaps implies the type of judicial review that the company wanted, but did not get, in this case) and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Reno Lodge #14. SSM obtained billboard leases at three sites owned by the Oddfellows, constructed signs on all three locations, and obtained permits for the construction of one of the signs. In late 2016, the city informed SSM and Oddfellows that the permitted sign’s permit was invalid due to the fact that it was issued to a different sign operator, and also informed Oddfellows that two other signs that had been installed by SSM and Oddfellows were constructed without a permit in violation of the city’s code. Oddfellows and SSM then challenged the city’s action, and also challenged the city’s ban on the erection of new, permanent off-premises signs and the city’s exemptions to permit requirements for certain temporary or permanent on-premises signs.…
Continue Reading Court Allows First Amendment Claims to Move Forward in Reno Sign Code Case
Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld San Francisco’s prohibition on new off-site commercial billboards, rejecting a First Amendment claim to the contrary made by a billboard company. The case reaffirms the distinction between commercial and noncommercial speech regulation under the First Amendment, and limits the scope of Reed v. Town of Gilbert.
Since 2002, San Francisco has prohibited the erection of new off-site billboards—which advertise products or services not available on the property where the billboards are located—while allowing new on-site business signs. The prohibition amounts to an effective ban on new billboards in San Francisco, although billboards that predated the ban are allowed to remain in place. The plaintiff, Contest Promotions, LLC, is a billboard company that challenged San Francisco’s regulation under the First Amendment. The district court for the Northern District of California granted a motion to dismiss filed by the City and County of San Francisco.…
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Allows San Francisco’s Billboard Ban to Stand
Late last week, in a case that involved made-for-TV shenanigans by a local police officer, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a town’s total ban on signs, flags, and banners within 100 feet of an interstate highway could survive with respect to overhead signs, but remanded the case for additional proceedings with respect to other parts of the ban.
Campbell, Wisconsin bans all signs, flags, and banners along interstate highways. The town enacted its regulation after members of the community hung political protest banners containing messages commonly identified with the Tea Party on a pedestrian overpass over Interstate 90.
Following the enactment of the regulation, the local police began issuing citations to individuals displaying signs along the highway. Some of the individual sign-posters took videos of the police issuing citations—including in response to the protesters’ display of American flags and other patriotic signs along the interstate highway. Concerned about the videos, in an apparent attempt at vigilante justice, the local police chief posted the name and email address of one of the Tea Party sign-posters on same-sex dating and pornographic websites. The police chief also took to local newspapers to accuse the man of failing to pay his taxes. …
Continue Reading Amid Interstate Overpass Soap Opera, Seventh Circuit Says No Empirical Evidence Required to Support Sign Regulation
Last month, a federal district court in California ruled that the City of Baldwin Park’s sign ordinance was likely unconstitutional, even after the city amended the ordinance amidst a legal challenge. The code allowed property owners additional signage and flag displays during certain times of the year, including election season and around holidays, respectively, and allowed businesses to display additional signage during promotional events.
The case originated when community members, including individuals and business owners, displayed signs alleging corruption by a local politician. Baldwin Park enforced its code, which prohibited the signs in question. The individuals and business owners filed a First Amendment challenge. The city then amended its code, and the amended code is now in question.…
Continue Reading Court Grants Motion for Preliminary Injunction in California Sign Code Case