Plaintiff, a resident of the defendant Village of Perry, placed six signs along her property at 76 North Main Street protesting the construction of a parking lot for the Village’s library, one of which read: “LIBRARY PARKING LOT = QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS + SQUANDERED.” As a result, plaintiff was issued a Notice of Apparent Violation on February 24, 2015 from defendant Donald Roberts, the Village’s Zoning Enforcement Officer, which order the signage to be removed to avoid further legal action. Although plaintiff covered the signs with opaque bags and moved them away from the property line, she received a Notice of Violation. Plaintiff commenced an action alleging that the Village’s Sign Law, discriminated on the basis of sign content and granted enforcement of the law to the unfettered discretion of authorities, and was therefore facially unconstitutional. She also alleged that the Village’s selective enforcement of its Sign Law violated her freedom of speech and equal protection rights.
Plaintiff argued that under the Village’s Sign Law “certain commercial signs, such as those advertising property for lease, for rent, or for sale, signs denoting that an architect, engineer, or contractor is working on the premises, all are exempt from the permit requirement yet signs which protest the policies of the government are subject to the permit requirement,” thus the law discriminated based on content. Due to the distinction that the Village’s Sign Law drew between signs containing certain commercial speech, which did not require a permit, and signs containing noncommercial speech, which required a permit, and there being no attempt by defendants to explain why that distinction was not content-based, the court concluded that the Sign Law was content-based. Since the Village offered no justification as to how its content-based restriction was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on this claim.
Plaintiff also argued that she “was the object of discriminatory enforcement of the sign law”, and that “her speech was chilled as a result.” Because the undisputed evidence of this case established that the signs posted by plaintiff critical of Village officials were subject to a permitting requirement that was not applied to other protest signs, and the selective enforcement of the Sign Law resulted in plaintiff covering her signs, the court found her speech had in fact been chilled. Accordingly, the court also granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to this claim.
Grieve v. Village of Perry, 2016 WL 4491713 (WDNY 8/3/2016)