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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Village's Sign Ordinance Did Not Violate First Amendment

This week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a local ordinance regulating the size and location of signs against a First Amendment challenge.  Leibundguth Storage & Van Servce, Inc. v. Village of Downers Grove

The Village has a comprehensive sign ordinance that regulates, among other things, the size and location of signs in the Village. One regulation prohibits "any sign painted directly on a wall." Leibundguth has a wall sign that would fall into this prohibition (see below). 

Leibundguth filed a lawsuit challenging the Village's sign ordinance on the basis that it contained "content-based" exceptions for political signs, holiday decorations, and temporary signs that violated the First Amendment based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Reed v. Gilbert. The court, however, did not agree with that argument, finding that Leibundguth's problems with the ordinance related to the size and surface limits and not content-based distinctions in the ordinance. Specifically, one of the signs was painted on the wall , another sign was too large, and a third wall contained two signs where only one was allowed by ordinance. In addition, the total amount of signage for the business exceeded 500 square feet, in excess of the 159 square feet allowed for that building. 

The Seventh Circuit ruled that the sign ordinance limitations on the size and presentation/location of signs were standard "time, place, and manner" regulations, a permissible form of zoning. The Village's rationale for these regulations (aesthetics) was not unreasonable or arbitrary, and the ordnance leaves plenty of alternative avenues of communication. In sum, the Village's sign ordinance did not violate the First Amendment.


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