Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 28, 2014

Fed. Dist. Court in MO Holds Content Neutral Sign Ordinance is Valid under Intermediate Scrutiny

This case is on remand from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded that the Defendant City of St. Louis’ Zoning Code Sign Regulations Sections 26.68.020(17), 26.68.030 and 26.68.050 violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Because of Respondents’ repeal of the offending sections and the replacement thereof with definitions which no longer make impermissible distinctions based solely on content or message conveyed, the Court’s determination is based on a content-neutral analysis under intermediate scrutiny, meaning they pass muster only if they are “narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and … leave open ample alternative channels for communication,” Clark v. Cmty. for Creative Non–Violence, 468 U.S. 288, 293 (1984).

This sign ordinance imposed burdens on speech by limiting the size and placement of signs that may be erected in the City, in an ostensible effort to protect property values, prevent distractions for drivers, and avoid aesthetic clutter; the ordinance was silent as to ideas, views, or content. Nothing in the ordinance suggested disagreement with the messages that might be conveyed on signs posted within the City. The court therefore found that the ordinance was reasonably fit to accomplish the City’s stated goals, without prohibiting substantially more speech than necessary: making this ordinance narrowly tailored. The final step in analyzing the new sign ordinance is determining whether it leaves open ample alternative channels for communication. Since the ordinance does not ban signs altogether, but simply limits their location and size the court found that the ordinance adequately left open ample alternative channels for communication.

Accordingly, the Court determined that the new sign ordinance is a valid place, and manner restriction—it is content-neutral and serves substantial government interests without unreasonably limiting alternative avenues of communication. The Defendant City of St. Louis’ Zoning Code was upheld, and its motion for judgment was granted.

Neighborhood Enterprises, Inc. v. City of St. Louis, Mo., 2014 WL 1648842 (E.D. Mo. 2014)

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