ACLU Files Against Troy for Unconstitutional Sign Ordinance

September 28, 2004

UPDATE - 8:30 p.m. September 28, 2004

The City of Troy has agreed to apply the TRO to all residents who are now free to place their political signs in their yards.  The class action planned for tomorrow will not be filed.

Click here to read the letter from the Troy City Attorney

UPDATE - 5:30 p.m. September 28, 2004

Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order

The TRO granted today restrains the City of Troy from enforcing the 30-day/2 signs limit in their sign ordinance -- but only for Kent Fehribach.  Unless the city agrees to apply the ruling to all Troy residents, the ACLU will file a class action tomorrow.  A hearing has already been set for a motion for a TRO at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Click here to read the order

September 27, 2004 - Press Release

DETROIT -- After the City of Troy decided to ignore a federal court ruling last week ordering that another Detroit suburb allow residents to put political signs in their yards, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the city for violating its residents’ free speech rights.

The ACLU is representing Kent Fehribach, a Troy resident, who was ticketed for putting a sign on his property, supporting George W. Bush, more than 30 days prior to the election.  The lawsuit also challenges another provision prohibiting the posting of more than two political signs at any one time.  In the case decided last week by U.S. District Court Judge O’Meara, the ACLU is representing a Grosse Pointe Woods woman who is supporting Kerry-Edwards.
 
“City officials clearly did not fully considered their residents’ constitutional rights when they determined these rules,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.  “It makes no sense to allow speech 31 days before an election but not 30 days.  It makes no sense to allow only one “political” sign but unlimited commercial signs.  These laws show that it is up to groups like the ACLU to make sure that the basic freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights are real and available to every American.”
 
Under Troy’s sign ordinances, a homeowner may place numerous signs in his yard at any one time.  For example, it would be lawful for a homeowner to place in his or her yard a “for sale” sign, a “for lease” sign, an “open house” sign, a garage sale sign, a sign with an “informational” or “directional” message, an American Flag, a state flag, a corporate flag and a construction sign, and two political signs.  However, it would not be lawful for a homeowner to have more than three signs in his or her yard if all three were political signs.
  
“I have decided to pursue this action against the City of Troy because of their violation of my constitutionally protected rights.  It is my hope that the City of Troy will take the right action by repealing the unconstitutional aspects of their city code/ordinance and to allow freedom  all Troy's residents to express their political opinions,” said Mr. Fehribach.

If the prohibition against posting political signs more than 30 days before the election is enjoined, Mr. Fehribach will put up his “W” sign as soon as the injunction is entered.

As the U.S. Supreme Court has said in striking down a sign ordinance in 1994, “It bears mentioning that individual residents themselves have strong incentives to keep their own property values up and prevent ‘visual clutter’ in their own yards and neighborhoods incentives markedly different from those of persons who erect signs on others’ land, in others’ neighborhoods, or on public property.  Residents’ self-interest diminishes the danger of the ‘unlimited’ proliferation of residential signs that concerns the City of Ladue.”  City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43, 59 (1994). 

In 1996, the ACLU successfully challenged a similar ordinance that prohibited both the posting of election signs more than 45 days before an election and the posting of more than one sign per candidate.   (Dimas v. City of Warren, 939 F. Supp. 554 (E.D. Mich. 1996).

The Oakland County Branch of the ACLU sent a letter to Troy and ten other Oakland County municipalities in June urging them to amend their sign ordinances to protect the free speech rights of their residents. However, Troy opted not to amend its ordinance or respond to the letter.

Last week four communities on the west side of the state Allegan , St. Joseph Township, the City of St. Joseph and Lincoln Township — all  agreed to suspend their 30-day rules in response to ACLU letters on behalf of residents who wanted to put political campaign sings in their yards more than 30 days before the election.
  
Mr. Fehribach is represented by ACLU cooperating attorney David Radtke and Michigan ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.
 
To read the complaint, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/troycomplaint.pdf

To read the temporary restraining order in the Grosse Pointe Woods case, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/gpwtro.pdf

To read the federal court decision on the Warren case, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/dimasvcityofwarren.pdf