One of the signs at issue in the case. Source: Riverfront Times.

In a case that we reported on around this time last year, late last month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s ruling denying a motion for preliminary injunction against Bel-Nor, Missouri’s “one sign” rule.  The Eighth Circuit’s ruling means that the city will be temporary enjoined from enforcing the law.

The facts of the case are discussed in our earlier post.

The court of appeals had no problem finding that the city’s sign regulation violated the First Amendment.  The law allows just one freestanding yard sign, as well as one flag.  The definition of “flag” in the city’s code indicates that the object must be a “symbol of a government or institution,” thus drawing a distinction based on the message a speaker conveys.  Applying the Supreme Court’s holding in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the court found the regulation was content based.  The court then found that the code was not narrowly tailored so as to pass muster under strict scrutiny.
Continue Reading

Two men were arrested for disorderly conduct in an anti-abortion demonstration in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In addition to bringing a Fourth Amendment claim against the Little Rock Police Department, the men challenged the Arkansas disorderly conduct statute and the city’s permit requirement as violations of their free speech rights under the First Amendment.  A federal district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed on appeal earlier this month.

Arkansas’s criminal code contains several actions that constitute disorderly conduct, including:  fighting; in violent, threatening, or tumultuous behavior; unreasonable or excessive noise; the use of “abusive or obscene language, or mak[ing] an obscene gesture, in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response; disruption or disturbance of meetings or gatherings; obstructing traffic; and other actions.  The plaintiffs argued that the statute was vague and overbroad.  The appeals court found that the statute was not vague, primarily because it contained a mens rea requirement—that is, that the violator have a particular intent to engage in disorderly conduct.  The court used similar logic in upholding the statute against the plaintiffs’ overbreadth claim, finding that the statute was content neutral and that its objective mens rea requirement precluded an overbreadth challenge.
Continue Reading

The Gentleman’s Playground in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Source: Yelp

This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer associate Lindsay Lyda.  Lindsay is a rising third-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School.

A few weeks ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s summary judgment

The Ocean City boardwalk. Source: Bill Price III, from Wikimedia Commons.

This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer associate Chelsea Marx.  Chelsea is a rising third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Just in time for summer, the federal district court in Maryland has determined that the show must go on for a group of performance artists challenging an ordinance restricting public performance on the Ocean City boardwalk.  In Christ v. Ocean City, which we first reported on last year, a federal district judge concluded that Chapter 62, a new ordinance limiting performance to designated spaces at designated times, was mostly unconstitutional.

The Ocean City Boardwalk Task Force hoped Chapter 62 would survive scrutiny after a lengthy history of successful First Amendment challenges to prior regulations of speech on the boardwalk.  The Mayor and City Council charged the five-member Boardwalk Task Force to draft a new ordinance addressing the “issues that had plagued the Boardwalk” with respect to public safety, traffic congestion, and managing competing uses for limited space.  A cast of eleven street performers, including a puppeteer, stick balloon artist, magician, mime, portrait sketch artist, and musician, filed suit asserting that Chapter 62 violated the First Amendment.

Further background and details of the ordinance are detailed in our earlier post.
Continue Reading

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

The Great Hall of the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport. Source: Denver Post.

Last week, a federal district judge in Colorado partially granted a motion for preliminary injunction filed by two individuals who sought to protest President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  The court found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim, which was filed in connection with demonstrations held at Denver International Airport immediately following the order.

Denver regulates First Amendment activities at its airport via a municipal regulation that requires demonstrators to first obtain a permit, which must be applied for no more than 30 and no less than seven days before the proposed activity.  In addition, any signs carried by protestors may not exceed one square foot, and picketing by more than two persons on items unrelated to a labor dispute is generally prohibited throughout the airport.  The chief executive officer of the airport has the discretion under the regulation to determine where protest activity may occur.
Continue Reading

xsc73

The Hitching Post in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  

In an opinion issued last week, a federal district court in Idaho found that a wedding services business, Hitching Post, which refused to officiate same-sex marriages on religious grounds, did not have standing to challenge an ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Continue Reading

The Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse plaza should be open to expressive activity, at least according to the federal district court in Colorado. Source: Glass Magazine.

In a case close to home (for us, at least), a group of citizen pamphleteers sued the City and County of Denver and the Colorado Second Judicial District court, claiming that prohibitions on expressive activity in the plaza outside of Denver’s Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse violated the First Amendment.
Continue Reading

The Village of Downers Grove, Illinois survived federal and state law challenges to its sign code after a federal district court found the code to be content neutral under the standard articulated in the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  Plaintiff Robert Peterson owns a business called Leibundguth Storage & Van Service, Inc., which painted large signs advertising its business on the walls of its brick building in Downers Grove.  The village’s sign ordinance banned painted wall signs and limited the size and number of wall signs.  Peterson argued that the sign code was content based because it exempted government signs, railroad signs, address signs, noncommercial flags, real estate signs, and decorations, among other sign types, from the village’s permitting requirement.  
Continue Reading

Nightclub operators challenged Wickliffe, Ohio’s nightclub ordinance, which required permits for the operation of for-profit nightclubs, defined by the ordinance as places “to engage in social activities such as dancing; the enjoyment of live or prerecorded music; the serving of food and beverages; all of which are provided for a consideration that may be included