The Planned Parenthood location on Virginia Cove in Memphis. Source: The Business Journals.

In a case we reported on last year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction in a case involving protests outside of a Planned Parenthood location in a Memphis, Tennessee business.  The case previously turned on the fact that the street in front of the clinic was a private street.  The district court had determined that, because the street was private, it could not be a public forum in which anti-abortion protests could take place.

The Sixth Circuit’s decision, issued yesterday, turned on the fact that the private street in question was “physically indistinguishable” from adjacent public streets.  The court reasoned that, because the private street was paved and had no signage indicating that it was privately-owned, a reasonable member of the public would likely consider the street public.  Thus, the court classified the street as a traditional public forum.  The court was also swayed by the fact that there appeared to be a dedication of the street on the subdivision plat for the business park in question, and that the public had impliedly accepted the street as a public street through public use of the street.  The court went on to apply strict scrutiny (although it did not conduct any analysis as to whether the restrictions on the street’s use were content based), and reversed the district court’s order.
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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.
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Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit vacated a preliminary injunction preventing Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (the “City”) from enforcing Ordinance 25/2017 (the “Ordinance”), which would regulate where unsolicited written materials may be delivered. Here is what you need to know about the procedural posture of the case:  The Ordinance would allow delivery of unsolicited written materials in six specific locations around a person’s residence or business but would prohibit driveway delivery.  Plaintiff, Lexington H-L Services, Inc., d/b/a Lexington Herald-Leader, delivers The Community News free of charge to more than 100,000 households per week via driveway delivery.  In their motion for a preliminary injunction, Plaintiff claimed that the Ordinance would make their publication financially unfeasible and that it would violate the First Amendment if allowed to go into effect.  The lower court, after applying strict scrutiny analysis to the Ordinance, granted Plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction, finding Plaintiff was likely to succeed on the merits of its First Amendment claim.  The City timely appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
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A homeless individual’s sign in Slidell, Lousiana. Source: WWLTV.com.

This week, a federal district court in Louisiana granted a motion for summary judgment invalidating the City of Slidell’s law requiring panhandlers to register and wear identification before soliciting donations.  In a lengthy but thorough order, the court found the city’s law, which applied only to individuals seeking to solicit donations of money or services, content based and unconstitutional, and issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the law.

The backstory of Slidell’s “panhandler ID” law starts in 2015.  Since then, the city received 70 complaints relating to panhandling and solicitation, but only 14 were “connected to an identifiable individual.”  Because of the difficulty of tracking down panhandlers who were violating city laws, the city council passed an ordinance containing certain registration and identification requirements.  Specifically, the ordinance required individuals to complete an application at least 48 hours prior to panhandling.  To complete the application, a person was to physically appear at the police department between 9:00 and 5:00 on a weekday, fill out the written application (which required listing an address, telephone number, email, and other identifying information), and show a photo identification.  After a group of indigent individuals sued the city over the law, the city removed the 48-hour waiting period and required issuance of a permit for up to 72 hours of panhandling following filing of a complete application.  The 72-hour permit can be extended for up to a year on certain conditions.
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The case involved a dispute between the Minnesota Tea Party and election judges. Source: MinnPost.

In February, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Minnesota district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the state, finding that the government could effectively prohibit political speech in polling places.  In a short decision, the court determined that speech by members of the Tea Party was properly restricted from polling locations.

Minnesota has a state statute that prohibits individuals from wearing political buttons or other insignia in polling places on election days.  The state issued a policy guide which was intended to assist election judges with the types of material that constituted political speech, which included “issue-oriented” material or material that promoted groups with political ends.  Failure to abide by the restriction could result in prosecution for a criminal misdemeanor.  The group that challenged the law included several members who wished to bear the insignia of the Tea Party in polling places.
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Last week, another local sign code was found content based and unconstitutional, this time in North Redington Beach, Florida.

A local business, Sweet Sage Café, was issued notices of violation for several alleged violations of the town’s sign code.  In response, the café filed First Amendment claims against the town, which is a small coastal community along the Gulf of Mexico.  The town’s sign code had several features of sign codes that are commonly understood to be unconstitutional post-Reed:

  • The town’s definition of “sign” had several arguably content based elements, including “Drawings of articles for sale on the premises that is related to the business and/or is intended to advertise or inform, rather than being merely aesthetic, shall be classified as a sign under this Chapter. The term does not include an official traffic control sign, official marker, national or state flags permitted by this Chapter, athletic scoreboards, or the official announcements or signs of government.”
  • The town exempted several types of signs from permitting on the basis of their message, including “national flags shown in accordance with the standards of the Adjutant General,” warning signs, murals, holiday decorations, memorial signs or tablets, garage sale signs, real estate open house signs, political campaign signs, “no trespassing” signs, and others.

The town issued notices of violation to Sweet Sage Café for a series of flip-flop sandal footprint decals
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Wagner’s sign in Garfield Heights. Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Ohio district court’s decision to permanently enjoin the enforcement of the City of Garfield Heights’s sign code.  The court found that the sign code’s restriction of “political signs” to six square feet was content based and unconstitutional.

The case began in September 2011, when local resident Frank Wagner wanted to protest a local councilwoman’s support of traffic cameras and a waste disposal tax.  Wagner placed a sixteen-square foot sign in his front yard that called out the councilwoman. 
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The court ruled that signs like the one shown above are forced speech in contradiction of First Amendment rights of utility companies. Source: Newsday.

In a decision that could have far-reaching consequences, earlier this year, a federal court in New York found a town law requiring the placement of warning signs on utility posts violated the First Amendment as a content based restriction on noncommercial speech.

In 2014, the Town of North Hempstead, New York adopted a local law requiring warning signs on utility posts in the town.  The law came about following local opposition to the erection of a new overheard electricity transmission line through the town.  As part of the project, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and PSEG Long Island LLC (PSEG) placed new utility poles
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