A Chester County, Pa. couple is suing their home municipality and the township’s zoning officer in federal court, contending a local ordinance that limits the number of political signs they can display on their property is unconstitutional.
Doylestown, Pa. attorney Lawrence M. Otter filed the civil action April 10 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of David and Gwen Galligan of Franklin Township, which sits in southern Chester County along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.
The plaintiffs, who are also local Republican Committee persons, own a barn in the township on which they have displayed political signs and messages during a number of prior election seasons, the complaint states.
The couple contends that Franklin Township’s sign ordinance, which limits the number of political advertisements that can be displayed on any given property, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
In addition to the township itself, the local zoning officer, Duane J. Brady, is named as an additional defendant.
Through their civil action, the Galligans are challenging the size, “numerosity” restrictions, time limits and permit requirements relating to the township’s sign ordinance, which the plaintiff’s deem unconstitutional.
“Defendant’s Sign Ordinance denies equal protection of the law to persons like the Plaintiffs in that they value commercial speech over political speech in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claims that the township’s ordinances and enforcement of its ordinances have “disrupted free and fair elections in previous campaigns, and will disrupt campaigns in the future by threatening governmental action against Plaintiffs, other candidates for public office and supporters and citizens of the United States who reside within the Defendant’s jurisdiction.”
The suit further alleges that the township’s actions are intended to disrupt “free and fair Presidential, Senate and Congressional federal elections, Commonwealth elections and county and local elections within the municipality.”
The plaintiffs are specifically challenging the township’s ordinance that restricts the size of political signs, as well as the ordinance that limits the number of political signs that can be located on each property.
The complaint alleges that the defendants are deliberately using an unconstitutional ordinance to “chill political speech within its jurisdiction” by threatening the plaintiffs with a fine and further enforcement action.
The plaintiffs seek to have the defendants enjoined from interfering in the 2012 election and from enforcing the township’s sign ordinance.
The suit also seeks to have the defendants prohibited from removing any political sign in Franklin Township unless it poses a “clear hazard to traffic.”
The Galligans also seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and other court relief.
The federal case number is 2:12-cv-01823-GP.