In This Story, Peace Doesn’t Win Out

Plaintiff was fined $800 for placing an illuminated peace symbol in the window of her condo, located on the 17th Floor in a building on the Upper West Side, in violation of N.Y.C. Zoning Resolution §32-655. This resolution prohibits illuminated signs from greater than 40 feet above the curb. Plaintiff brought suit alleging the ordinance violated the First Amendment by placing a content-based restriction on speech. The lower court granted summary judgment for the City, and the decision was affirmed on appeal. The present case focused on Plaintiff’s alternate argument that “irrespective of content” the zoning regulation was “an unduly restrictive time, place, and manner” limitation on speech.

Examining this argument, the Second Circuit rejected Plaintiff’s contention that the City had failed to show a sufficiently real and significant governmental interest. Multiple courts have upheld the interest of preserving the character and aesthetic of a city in the land use context. In addition, the Court found the ordinance to be narrowly tailored because it allowed other signs to be displayed more than 40 feet above the curb, prohibiting only illuminated or commercial signs. Thus the Court upheld the ordinance as not placing a substantially greater burden on speech than necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.

Finally, the Court noted that the ordinance left plenty of other avenues by which the Plaintiff could spread her message of peace and love. Plaintiff’s sign already fit the size requirements, and thus an un-illuminated version would be acceptable. Similarly, a banner with a picture of a peace sign or the actual word “Peace” would also have been allowed. The complaint was thus dismissed.

The case was Vosse v City of New York, 2015 WL 7280226 (S.D.N.Y.)

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