An apartment advertised for short-term rental. Source: Creative Commons.

Last month, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction in a case initiated by HomeAway and Airbnb challenging the City of Santa Monica, California’s short-term rental regulations.  The plaintiffs in the case alleged violations of the First Amendment right to freedom of association.

Located on the Pacific coast and known as a tourist destination, by early 2018, Santa Monica had nearly 2,000 Airbnb or HomeAway listings—in a city of just 90,000 residents.  In response to the various problems created by short-term rentals, the city council passed an ordinance limiting short-term rentals to only “home-shares,” where the resident of the unit is present during the rental period.  Santa Monica also collects taxes on short-term rentals, requires licenses, and imposes disclosure obligations on hosts.  HomeAway and Airbnb filed a variety of challenges to the ordinance, and moved for a preliminary injunction, which was denied by the district court. Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Affirms Denial of Preliminary Injunction in Santa Monica Short-Term Rental Case

Déjà Vu of Nashville, Inc. is a business engaged “in the presentation of female performance dance entertainment to the consenting adult public.”  More prosaically, Déjà Vu operates a strip club.  That business, you will not be surprised to learn, has its detractors.  After those detractors found themselves unable to prevent Déjà Vu from operating as a permitted use in downtown Nashville, they took aim at Déjà Vu’s planned valet service, which was to be operated by a third party.  They succeeded in persuading the city to deny the permit application for that valet service.  In return, Continue Reading Tennessee District Court Dismisses Strip Club’s First Amendment Claim

The rats and cats are back.  We first reported on this case in 2016, after the Seventh Circuit determined that it might be moot.  As it turns out, the case was not moot, and “Scabby the Rat” returned to the appeals court again.  In a ruling last month, the Seventh Circuit found that the district court properly determined that the town’s ordinance prohibiting the inflatable rat was not content based and accorded with the First Amendment.

The facts of the case can be found in our earlier post.  After the Seventh Circuit suggested that the case might be moot due to an agreement between the union and employer, the case went back to the district court.  The district court subsequently found the case not to be moot, as the union was seeking damages for its inability to place the rat in the right-of-way.  In its ruling, the district court then found that the ordinance in question—which prohibited the placement of private signs in town right-of-ways—was content neutral and survived First Amendment scrutiny. Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin Ordinance Prohibiting Inflatable “Scabby the Rat”

Nashville Pride Festival. Source: The Tennessean.

In a case that we reported on over a year ago, last fall, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Tennessee judge’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the Nashville metropolitan government, finding instead that the relocation of protesters at Nashville’s Pride Festival violated the protesters’ First Amendment rights.

The facts of the case can be found in our prior post.  In short, this case arose from Nashville’s exclusion of anti-homosexuality preachers from the city’s annual Pride Festival, which celebrates the LGBT community of Nashville.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court that the area in question was a traditional public forum.  However, the appeals court found the relocation of the protesters to be content based.  Although Nashville contended that the relocation of the protesters was content neutral, because the speech in question interfered with the Pride Festival, its location obstructed ingress and egress to the Festival, and the protesters presented a danger to public safety due to the crowds that they drew.  The appellate court found that the first of these reasons was itself content based, since the protesters’ message was itself the reason that it interfered with the Festival.  In applying strict scrutiny, the Sixth Circuit found that the city had failed to demonstrate any compelling interest justifying its exclusion of the protesters from the Festival.

McGlone v. Metro. Govt. of Nashville, 749 Fed. Appx. 402 (6th Cir. 2018).

An example of San Francisco’s warning label. Image credit: Behavioral Science and Policy. Used subject to license.

A San Francisco ordinance requiring health warnings on advertisements for some sugar-sweetened beverages has suffered an early defeat.  On January 31, the Ninth Circuit ruled, en banc, that the district court should have granted plaintiff American Beverage Association’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the ordinance’s enforcement.

At issue was the ordinance’s required rectangular warning label—similar to such labels for cigarettes—occupying 20% of any advertisement for many sugar-sweetened beverages.  The text of the warning was to read as follow: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.”  Arguing that the ordinance impermissibly compelled commercial speech, the American Beverage Association sued and sought a preliminary injunction against its enforcement.

After the district court denied the requested preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit reversed.  The court concluded that, despite some recent uncertainty regarding the appropriate test, the Supreme Court’s decision in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985), required an inquiry into whether San Francisco’s warning label was (1) purely factual, (2) non-controversial, and (3) not unjustified or unduly burdensome.

In the court’s view, the ordinance was likely to fail the Zauderer test’s third prong because the warning label was unduly burdensome.  The record indicated that a warning label half the size (i.e., 10% of the advertising area) would adequately accomplish the city’s primary objectives of warning consumers about the harms of sugar-sweetened beverages and reducing their consumption.  Moreover, San Francisco failed to show that the sizeable, contrasting label would not “drown out” the rest of the advertisement and would not effectively rule out the possibility of having an advertisement in the first place.  The panel cautioned, however, that it did not intend to set a per se rule that 10% warning labels were acceptable while 20% labels were not.

Three judges concurred in the judgment but departed from the majority’s reason.  Judge Ikuta would have instead applied the framework from the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra,  ___U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 2361 (2018).  Chief Judge Thomas would have concluded that the warning was not “purely factual.” And Judge Nguyen disagreed with the majority’s application of Zauderer to speech that was not false, deceptive, or misleading but still concluded that a preliminary injunction was appropriate.

Full opinion available here: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca9/16-16072/16-16072-2019-01-31.html

Early this month, the federal district court for the Southern District of New York ruled that a New York City law requiring food service industry employers to provide a payroll deduction system for their employees to make donations to non-profit organizations did not violate the First Amendment rights of such employers.

New York City’s law became effective in late 2017.  Fast food establishments are required to create and maintain deduction systems.  Upon request from an employee, the establishment must deduct a donation to a non-profit organization from the employee’s pay check and remit it to the designated organization.  Non-profit organizations that receive funds through the system are required to reimburse employers for the cost of maintaining the deduction system, if requested by the employers. Continue Reading Court Upholds New York City’s Fast-Food Payroll Deduction System For Donations

We at the Rocky Mountain Sign Law are pleased to announce the following webinar from our friends at the American Planning Association’s Planning and Law Division:

The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Planning and Law Caselaw Update on Thursday, January 31st, 2019 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. ET. Registration for individuals is $20 for PLD members and $45 for nonmembers. Registration for two or more people at one computer is $140.

The U.S. Supreme Court, federal courts, and state courts all play an important role in shaping planning throughout the country. This annual review delves into the important cases, the decisions that were made — or not made — and how this will affect planning at many levels.  It will also consider new legislative developments, both at the local and federal levels, which may influence the future of planning.  Speakers are John Baker, Esq., founding attorney of Greene Espel,  Deborah M. Rosenthal, Esq., FAICP, partner at Fitzgerald Yap Kreditor LLP, and Alan Weinstein, Esq., Professor of Law at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and Professor of Urban Studies at CSU’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.

Register here

Photo by Peter Kaminski, used pursuant to Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Fewer than six months after it was enacted as an “emergency” measure, a Cincinnati ordinance singling out billboards for special taxes has succumbed to a constitutional challenge. The ordinance, which met legal headwinds from the start, transparently aimed to make life miserable for the city’s billboard operators and consisted of two primary components: (1) a special tax on revenues from billboard advertising and (2) a hush provision preventing those operators from telling advertisers about the tax.  An Ohio judge wasted little time in finding both provisions unconstitutional and Continue Reading Cincinnati “Billboard Tax” Found Unconstitutional Just Months After Enactment

Ted Pelkey’s middle finger to the Town of Westford. Source: boston.com.

Fortunately for those of us in the practice of First Amendment-related law, expressive conduct can be wildly entertaining.  And in Westford, Vermont, a local land use dispute has turned into a full-blown First Amendment fiasco.

Apparently operating on the old premise of “I’m from Vermont, I do what I want,” Ted Pelkey, a resident of Westford, decided to pursue a creative approach to expressing his First Amendment rights by erecting a decorative, 16-foot-tall, 700-pound wooden statue on his property.  That statute was, however, of a middle finger.  The statue, aimed directly at the local town hall, was erected in response to the Town’s denial of Pelkey’s application to construct a garage on his property.

While the particulars of the story can be found here, it appears that Westford’s sign regulations do not prohibit Pelkey’s statue.  The Westford sign code is contained in Section 326 of the Town’s Land Use and Development Regulations.  Pelkey’s middle finger meets the height and size limits for signs, and it may even be exempt from regulation as a “residential decorative sign.”  Although some might question whether the town should allow the sign, Supreme Court case law going back 50 years tells us that a middle finger–and the message it entails–may not be banned because it offends some community members.  So it seems as though Westford will have difficulty requiring Pelkey to remove his “decorative sign.”

Merry (expletive) Christmas, Westford!

New Jersey bars may now post signs this like this one. Source: steezdesign.com.

Last month, a federal court ruled that New Jersey’s prohibition on “BYOB” advertising—that is, advertising by drinking and entertainment establishments allowing patrons to bring their own alcoholic beverages—violated the First Amendment.  As a result of the court’s ruling, Garden State restaurants will now be allowed to post advertisements encouraging their patrons to bring their own wine and beer.

New Jersey law allowed patrons to bring wine or beer onto the premises of establishments that are not licensed to serve alcoholic beverages, but prohibited such establishments from advertising that it was permissible to do so.  An Atlantic City nightclub, Stiletto, filed suit in federal district court against Atlantic City and the state, seeking to invalidate the state law.  Stiletto wished to advertise that patrons could bring their own beverages to the nightclub. Continue Reading New Jersey Prohibition On “BYOB” Advertising Found Unconstitutional