Texas City’s Sign Code Found Content Based, Unconstitutional

By: Brian J. Connolly, Shareholder, Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti, P.C.

This article is reprinted with permission. The original appeared on Rocky Mountain Sign Law, www.rockymountainsignlaw.com.

A federal district court in Texas recently found that the City of Cedar Park’s sign code was content based and unconstitutional due to its failure to distinguish between commercial and noncommercial billboards.

A billboard company sought permits to convert existing billboards to digital signs, as well as to erect new signs.  The city denied the permit applications for failure to comply with the city’s sign code, and the billboard company sued.  In its lawsuit, the billboard company argued that the city’s decision to distinguish between on- and off-premises signs was content based, because it applied to noncommercial signs in the same manner as commercial signs.  Generally speaking, the government may not distinguish between the content or message of various noncommercial signs.  Per the billboard company, a code enforcement officer would be required to determine the permissibility of the sign based on its content, in violation of the First Amendment.  The federal district court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.  About a month ago, the court denied the city’s motion for reconsideration.

Reagan Nat’l Adver. of Austin, Inc. v. City of Cedar Park, Slip Op., No. AU-17-CA-00717-SS, 2019 WL 3845455 (W.D. Tex. 2019).

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