Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 24, 2019

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Finds Wall Sign Did Not Violate the First Amendment

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

The Village of Downers Grove has a comprehensive ordinance regulating signs, Section 9.020, which set out rules for all signs, including a rule prohibiting “any sign painted directly on a wall.” Additionally, Section 9.050.A set a size limit: for buildings such as the one at issue, which was closer than 300 feet to a street, the maximum sign size was 1.5 square feet per linear foot of frontage. Thus, pursuant to the ordinance, Leibundguth’s building would have had a limit of 159 square feet. In this case, Leibundguth Storage & Van Service argued that this ordinance violated the First Amendment to the Constitution because contained numerous exceptions and was therefore a form of content discrimination that the Village had not justified.

The record reflected that the sign at issue was 40 feet long and 10 feet high, or 400 square feet, and was painted on a brick wall. The ordinance’s size limit and no paint-on-walls rules independently expressly forbid this sign. The court found that a limit on the size and presentation of signs is a standard time, place, and manner rule, and is a form of aesthetic zoning. Here, the Village gathered evidence that signs painted on walls tend to deteriorate faster than other signs. Furthermore, the parties agreed that enforcement of the sign ordinance left open other ways to communicate, and 159 square feet of signage on Leibundguth’s building was still a large enough sign to achieve its purpose. Accordingly, the court held the ordinance, as applied to Leibundguth, did not violate the First Amendment.

Leibundguth Storage & Van Service, Inc. v. Village of Downers, 2019 WL 4629897 (7th Cir CA 9/24/2019)

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