Federal Lawsuit Over City's Sign Ban Inches Closer to an August Court Hearing

You probably forgot all about the Institute for Justice's federal lawsuit filed in November, which claims the city of Dallas's 2-year-old law that prohibits business owners from covering their storefront windows with signs is unconstitutional. So, then, this heads-up: The case is coming, more than likely, to a courtroom near you (if you're near District Judge David C. Godbey's courtroom) in a matter of weeks.

As Matt Miller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter out of Austin, recaps it this afternoon, there's been "a soup of motions" filed in recent weeks, with the city wanting $1,000 per day from the four plaintiffs -- including a FastSigns franchise on Central Expressway and Lakeside Cleaners at Knox Avenue and Central -- during the legal proceedings. Because, after all, the city considers the foursome in violation of the ordinance. The city also wants to include the businesses' landlords in the proceedings.

"But the landlords aren't the ones seeking to exercise their constitutional right," Miller says. "So that's not appropriate. There aren't damages here -- it's a declaratory judgment action. We want the law declared unconstitutional." Miller has also asked for a preliminary injunction slapping down the law. Godbey could rule on all of this following a hearing scheduled for August.

"We think it's a good lawsuit," says Miller. "We think the ordinance is unconstitutional because political and artistic speech are allowed, but commercial speech is not." He also says he hears from private attorneys "all the time" wanting an update.

"They say, 'They're coming after our guys. What should I do?'" Miller says. "And I can't name names, of course, but some of these are big chains in Dallas. They are definitely enforcing the ordinance. ... And a lot of them are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Honestly, I think a lot of these businesses think the city will come to its senses and do something reasonable."

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