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Friday, July 20, 2012

Octopus Mural Subject to Sign Regulations

While an octopus might hide behind a building on a mural, the mural cannot hide from the sign code of Walla Walla, Washington. Robert Catsiff moved his toy store, the “Inland Octopus,” to a new location in downtown Walla Walla, which is subject to the height, width and permit requirements of the “downtown area” of the Central Business District. Mr. Catsiff painted on the store front an octopus hiding behind several buildings with a rainbow above the buildings in excess of the City's height and width limits. The City issued a notice of violation, but Catsiff contended that the sign code was unconstitutional. The hearing officer found a violation, and the trial court affirmed, while rejecting Catsiff’s constitutional claims.

On appeal, Catsiff contended his mural was not a commercial sign, a fact the Appellate Court readily rejected because the octopus mural plainly related to the economic interests of the “Inland Octopus” toy store.  Catsiff v. McCarty, 274 P.3d 1063 (3d Div. Wash. App. 2012), reconsid. denied (May 14, 2012). The Court then concluded Walla Walla met its burden of justifying the restrictions because they were narrowly tailored to protect the City's substantial interest in traffic safety and aesthetics. Additionally, the sign regulations were:  1) content neutral, i.e. absent censorial purpose; (2) reasonable, and (3) supported by a legitimate regulatory interest. Walla Walla's wall sign size and height restrictions are content neutral because they do not limit what a business owner may say or depict in a wall sign. The City satisfied the reasonableness test because the legislative history showed the City carefully considered its sign size and height restrictions. The City’s legislative history showing the wall sign size and height restrictions were adopted as part of a comprehensive plan to address aesthetics and traffic control demonstrated a legitimate regulatory interest. The definitions in the sign code saved the city from Catsiff’s vagueness challenge, and Catsiff’s overbreadth challenge failed because the code did not affect protected speech.

Post Authored by Dan Bolin, Ancel Glink


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