significant government interest

Sam Shaw and one of his signs. Source: Indiana Public Media.

Last week, a federal district court in Indiana ruled that the enforcement of the City of Bedford’s sign ordinance would not be enjoined, finding that the sign code was content neutral, supported by a significant governmental interest, and narrowly tailored.  The court’s denial of the preliminary injunction indicates that the ordinance is likely to survive constitutional scrutiny.
Continue Reading Indiana Town’s Sign Ordinance Withstands Motion for Preliminary Injunction

This post was originally authored by Evan J. Seeman of Robinson & Cole LLP on the RLUIPA Defense blog.  We have re-posted it here with permission.  The original post can be found here.  Any views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti, P.C.

Last year, we reported about a case in which the city of St. Michael, Minnesota utilized RLUIPA’s “safe harbor” provision to avoid liability under the act’s substantial burden and equal terms provisions.  While the federal court found for the city as to Riverside Church’s RLUIPA claims at the summary judgment stage, the court concluded that there were genuine issues of fact regarding Riverside’s free speech claim that could only be resolved at trial.  Following a several-week-long trial, the court late last month issued its decision and found that the city’s zoning ordinance violated Riverside’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and awarded Riverside $1,354,595 in damages.

Riverside identified property in the city’s B-1 district as an ideal satellite location to accommodate its growing congregation.  Riverside would use the new location much like a movie theater, where it would broadcast religious worship services being held at its primary church in Big Lake, Minnesota.  The property was already suited for Riverside’s intended use, since it had previously been operated as a 15-screen movie theatre, with nearly 2,800 seats, a maximum capacity of over 3,600 people, and having more than 91,000 square feet.  Although Riverside sought to use the property in much the same way as a movie theatre – an allowed use under the zoning code for this B-1 district – the city concluded that the proposed use was not allowed since “collective religious worship” was not among the uses permitted in this district.
Continue Reading RLUIPA Defense: Church Wins Free Speech Claim Over Zoning Ordinance and $1,354,595 in Damages

Last week, a federal district court in Massachusetts accepted a nude dancing establishment’s argument that the City of Chelsea violated the First Amendment in denying a building permit for renovations to the business’s premises.  In so doing, the court struck down the city’s adult business zoning regulations and directed the city to treat the establishment under other use classifications contained in the code.

Chelsea’s zoning code provides for several zoning districts, including industrial, highway business, shopping center, and retail commercial business districts.  The code allows for an “art use”, defined as “the creation, manufacture or assemblage of visual art, including two or three dimensional works of fine art or craft, or other fine art objects created, manufactured or assembled for the purpose of sale, display, commission, consignment or trade by artists or artisans; or classes held for art instruction,” in the industrial district, and by special permit in the retail business and highway business districts.  The code also allows for theater uses in the retail and shopping center districts, and adult entertainment uses in the highway commercial and shopping center districts.  Adult entertainment uses and theater uses are not allowed in the industrial district.
Continue Reading Massachusetts Court Strikes Down Local Adult Business Regulations

This post was originally authored by Evan Seeman and Karla Chafee of Robinson + Cole, LLP.  Any views reflected in this post are the views of the original authors. 

hillside-sign

Thou shall have the right to an electronic sign?  Apparently not.  Just over a year ago, Hillside Baptist Church and Signs for Jesus (together, Plaintiffs or Church) filed a complaint in the District Court for New Hampshire, seeking a declaration that the Town of Pembroke’s (the Town) sign ordinance is unconstitutional both facially and as applied to the Plaintiffs.  The complaint alleged that the Town’s Ordinance banning the use of electronic signs in all but the Town’s commercial zoning district “restricts how the Church may proclaim a daily Biblical message while not restricting the medium of communicating state, municipal or school messages.”  Our post regarding the complaint is available here.

The Plaintiffs claimed that the Town’s limitation on electronic signs in all zones but the commercial zone, and the Town’s denial of the Church’s sign application violated its rights to Free Speech, Free Exercise of Religion, and Equal Protection, as well as RLUIPA’s substantial burden and equal terms provisions.
Continue Reading RLUIPA Defense: Signs 4 JC Shown the Light by NH District Court

A tattered campaign sign on a D.C. lamppost. Source: Washington Times.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit determined that Washington, D.C.’s regulation of event-based signage on public lampposts is not content based.  On its face, the court’s decision appears to conflict with one of the central holdings of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  But the lengthy, well-written opinion made significant efforts to distinguish the case from Reed, and the D.C. Circuit’s decision potentially offers new avenues for local governments to control proliferations of signage.

Washington, D.C. has long regulated signage on public lampposts.
Continue Reading In Apparent Departure From Reed, D.C. Circuit Says Event-Related Sign Restrictions Are Not Content-Based

A photo of the “Temple Burn” engaged in by Catharsis on the Mall in 2015. Source: catharsisonthemall.com.

Last month, the federal district court in Washington, D.C. denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the National Park Service’s enforcement of its bonfire restrictions on the National Mall.  A group sought to host a demonstration on the Mall that would have attracted more than 4,000 participants and involved the burning of a wooden “Temple” as a symbol of support for additional protections and services for veterans.  The National Park Service denied the group’s request for a permit based on newly-enacted rules regarding bonfires on the Mall, which limited the size of bonfires for safety purposes.  Prior regulations allowed bonfires with a National Park Service permit. 
Continue Reading No Preliminary Injunction in National Mall Bonfire Case

The Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas. Source: Vegas Experience.

Fremont Street in Las Vegas is one of the city’s major tourist attractions.  It is operated and managed by a private concessionaire, Fremont Street Experience, LLC.  The city government regulates street performances on Fremont Street, controlling the areas in which street performances take place, limiting noise made by street performers, designating times in which street performances are allowed, establishing a lottery system to allocate times and locations among street performers (25 to 38 performers, depending on the time of the day), and requiring that street performers obtain a city license.  In a prior case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found Fremont Street to be a traditional public forum.


Continue Reading Court Denies Preliminary Injunction in Las Vegas Mall Case

Late last month, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision finding that a New Hampshire law prohibiting digital photography of completed election ballots violated the First Amendment.  In the case of Rideout v. Gardner, the court found that the law was not narrowly tailored to a significant governmental interest, and therefore failed intermediate scrutiny review.

The New Hampshire law in question was commonly referred to as the “ballot selfie” law, since it prohibited individuals from taking cell phone photographs of themselves with their completed ballots.  The law was a 21st century update of an earlier state law dating back to the late 1800s
Continue Reading First Circuit Rejects New Hampshire “Ballot Selfie” Law

A digital billboard in New Jersey. Source: nj.com.

In a surprising decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court found earlier this month that a township ordinance prohibiting digital billboards violated the free speech provisions of the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions.

Franklin Township, New Jersey, a suburban community in Somerset County, enacted sign regulations that allowed billboards in zoning districts near interstate highways.  The regulations prohibited digital billboards.  The township justified its regulations on the basis of traffic safety and aesthetics.  Various township bodies suggested that the ban on digital billboards was enacted because the township did not have sufficient information on the safety of digital billboards in order to craft appropriate regulations.  Because state law imposes dispersal requirements on billboards, it was established that the township could have just three static billboards and just one digital billboard.

In 2009, E&J Equities sought a variance to allow the placement of a digital billboard in the township.  Because digital billboards were not allowed, the request was brought before the township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The ZBA did not approve the application.

Thereafter, E&J brought an action against the township in state trial court.  The trial court found that the township failed to meet intermediate scrutiny
Continue Reading New Jersey Supreme Court: Digital Billboard Ban Unconstitutional