U.S. Court of Appeals hears Cary sign ordinance case
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RICHMOND, Va. -- The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments surrounding a controversial sign a Cary homeowner posted on his house in 2009 containing a message that criticized the town.
The town of Cary asked a panel of three judges on Wednesday to reverse the North Carolina district court ruling, which said the town violated homeowner David Bowden's First Amendment rights by telling him to remove the sign.
Bowden posted a sign that said "Screwed by the Town of Cary" when the town refused to pay him $250,000 after a road widening project damaged his house.
Since 2009, town attorneys claimed Bowden violated his their sign ordinance.
"The enforcement action was taken simply based on the size and color of this signs," said Cary attorney Chris Simpson, who told judges the town's request for removal was not based on the sign's content, "To have sign ordinances that express the community's standards and the desires of its citizens."
When Bowden died last year, his daughter Dawn Brown took over his estate and her father's case. Her attorney Mark Sigmon told the judges Bowden and all homeowners need to know they have the right to make a political statement on their own property.
"It's clear he's in violation of both the size and the color. That's why we're here in the first place. The argument is that even though he's technically in violation, you cannot apply the ordinance against him because the First Amendment does not allow that," Sigmon said.
Cary attorneys told the judges this case represents problems municipalities across the country face. They urged the judge to allow towns to uphold their sign ordinances.
"Not based on one person but on the ability of cities to regulate signs," said Simpson.
However, Sigmon argued freedom of speech should not be regulated and feels the final ruling in this case could hold implications for all homeowners.
"People have strong opinions. They want to get it out there in the best way and they're going to do that on their own house. Hopefully the court will allow that," he said.
If the judges uphold the lower court's decision, the town will have to pay more than $55,000 in attorney and other fees and a nominal fee for Bowden's family.
"I saw him in the hospital a couple of days before he died and the very last thing he told me was that he wanted the dollar that Cary was ordered to pay him," said Sigmon.
It could be several months before the judges make their ruling.