Plaintiffs Say Threat of Fines "Forced" Them to Drop Lawsuit Over Dallas' Sign Ordinance
Must be the day for getting rid of lawsuits involving the city of Dallas. The feds already sent their heads-up that the city's going to fork over $2.5 million related to ambulance over-billing, and now the Institute for Justice sends word that that lawsuit over the 2008 sign ordinance prohibiting store owners from covering the top two-thirds of their windows is getting tossed in the trash. Only, that one didn't end as the Institute for Justice had hoped: Shira Rawlinson, communications coordinator for the Virginia-based nonprofit, just told Unfair Park that their clients -- a handful of small business owners -- were "forced to drop the suit after the city threatened to go after them with $300,000 in fines, which would basically bankrupt them."
I've left messages with First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers and Senior Assistant City Attorney Chris Caso, who litigated the case. But long story short: In a March court filing, the city asked the court to allow it to fine the plaintiffs "civil penalties not to exceed $1,000 per day for each violation of the Sign Ordinance pursuant to Texas Local Government Code," which, Rawlinson says, the court agreed to. (That doc follows, as does today's agreement to drop the suit.) Says Rawlinson, "The city said if they didn't drop it, they would take them to court, and they didn't want to get hit with the fines."
Matt Miller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter and the attorney who filed the suit in '08, says in a statement that "rather than litigating a constitutional lawsuit on the merits, Dallas chose to employ a 'gotcha' tactic of claiming signs displaying vacuum brands and store hours are a $1,000 per day nuisance to the citizens of Dallas. Unfortunately, few small businesses can risk $300,000 in fines, however remote that risk might be. Our clients were forced to abandon their case or face possible bankruptcy."
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