846 F.3d 391 (D.C. Cir. 2017), 12-7139, Act Now to Stop War & End Racism Coalition v. District of Columbia

Docket Nº:12-7139, 12-7140
Citation:846 F.3d 391, 96 Fed.R.Serv.3d 749
Opinion Judge:Pillard, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:ACT NOW TO STOP WAR AND END RACISM COALITION AND MUSLIM AMERICAN SOCIETY FREEDOM FOUNDATION, APPELLEES v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLANT
Attorney:Carl J. Schifferle, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellant/cross-appellee. With him on the briefs were Karl A. Racine, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General....
Judge Panel:Before: ROGERS and PILLARD, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge.
Case Date:January 24, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 391

846 F.3d 391 (D.C. Cir. 2017)

96 Fed.R.Serv.3d 749

ACT NOW TO STOP WAR AND END RACISM COALITION AND MUSLIM AMERICAN SOCIETY FREEDOM FOUNDATION, APPELLEES

v.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLANT

Nos. 12-7139, 12-7140

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

January 24, 2017

Argued March 24, 2016

Page 392

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 393

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 394

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 395

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:07-cv-01495).

Carl J. Schifferle, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellant/cross-appellee. With him on the briefs were Karl A. Racine, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General.

Mara E. Verheyden-Hilliard argued the cause for appellees/cross-appellants. With her on the briefs were Carl L. Messineo and Andrea Costello.

Before: ROGERS and PILLARD, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge.

OPINION

Page 396

Pillard, Circuit Judge:

Like many municipalities around the country, the District of Columbia regulates the manner in which members of the public may post signs on the District's lampposts. District of Columbia law allows a posted sign to remain on a public lamppost for up to 180 days. But a sign relating to an event must be removed within 30 days after the event, whether the 180-day period has expired or not. Thus, the District's rule may in some cases give less favorable treatment to signs that relate to an event than to signs that do not.

Two nonprofit organizations, the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (ANSWER) and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MASF) (together, the organizations), challenge the District's sign-posting rule. MASF brings a pre-enforcement challenge to the rule as unconstitutional on its face in violation of the First Amendment and due process. MASF first argues that the distinction between event-related and other signs is content based yet cannot meet strict First Amendment scrutiny and that, even if the rule is not content based, it fails the intermediate scrutiny applicable to content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. Second, MASF contends that the regulation delegates an impermissible degree of enforcement discretion to the District's inspectors in violation of due process. It further challenges what it contends is strict liability on the originators of posters for any violation of the sign-posting rule, which MASF argues also contravenes its speech and due process rights. ANSWER, unlike MASF, was cited by the District for violations of the regulation. ANSWER seeks damages under section 1983, contending that it did not in fact violate the regulation and that citations were unconstitutional retaliation against it for its postering.

The district court granted summary judgment to MASF, invalidating the regulation's treatment of event-related posters on both First Amendment and due process grounds, but rejecting MASF's strict-liability objection. The court also sanctioned the District for seeking discovery in the face of an order granting limited discovery to plaintiffs. The district court granted summary judgment to the District on ANSWER's section 1983 damages claim for lack of a showing of a policy, custom, or practice of retaliatory enforcement, as required by Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). The District and the organizations cross-appealed.

We conclude that the regulation does not impose a content-based distinction because it regulates how long people may maintain event-related signs on public lampposts, not the content of the signs' messages. The " event-related" category is not itself content based. Under the intermediate First Amendment scrutiny that is therefore applicable, the rule is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. It is narrowly tailored to further a well-established, admittedly significant governmental interest in avoiding visual clutter. The regulation's definition of event-based signs also guides officials' enforcement discretion

Page 397

sufficiently to avoid facial invalidation on due process grounds. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment in MASF's favor and remand for the district court to enter summary judgment for the District.

On the organizations' cross-appeal, we affirm the district court's dismissal of ANSWER's section 1983 damages claim that the District retaliated against it in violation of the First Amendment, and MASF's claim that the District's regulation imposes a system of strict liability the First Amendment does not allow. Finally, because discovery is presumptively available to all parties pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the absence of a court order to the contrary, we vacate the district court's imposition of discovery sanctions against the District for seeking discovery without leave of court.

I. Background

The District of Columbia began its regulation of signs on public lampposts with an outright prohibition in 1902. D.C. Police Regulations, Art. XII, § 2 (1902). The District partially relaxed that ban in 1958 to allow for the posting of signs on lampposts only with the permission of the District's Commissioners. D.C. Police Regulations, Art. 20 § 2 (1958). After the District's Corporation Counsel advised that the regulation might be constitutionally infirm for lack of clearly articulated standards, see Letter from Louis P. Robbins, Acting Corporation Counsel, to James W. Hill, Director, Dep't of Licenses, Investigations, and Inspections (October 12, 1978) (Gov't Add. 13) [hereinafter Robbins Letter], the District revised the regulation to add specific criteria to limit enforcing officers' discretion, see Street Sign Regulation Amendment Act of 1979, D.C. Law 3-50, 26 D.C. Reg. 2733 (1979); see also Crime Prevention Sign Posting Act of 1980, D.C. Law 3-148, 27 D.C. Reg. 4884. Following the revisions, signs " not relate[d] to the sale of goods" could be affixed to lampposts for up to 60 days; election signs for District of Columbia candidates for public office were exempt from that overall limit but had to be taken down within 30 days after the election; and signs intended to aid neighborhood crime prevention were exempted from the time limits. See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24 § 108.4-108.6 (1980). Commercial signs could not be affixed to public lampposts at all. See id. § 108.4. The revised rule also articulated specific requirements for the manner in which signs could be posted on a lamppost " or appurtenances of a lamppost" to " minimiz[e] the need to repair lamp posts defaced by signs attached by adhesives or other permanent methods and the need to remove abandoned or improperly secured signs from lamp posts, the sidewalks and the streets." Robbins Letter at 2; see D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 108.8-108.9 (1980). During the pendency of this case, the District twice further amended its lamppost rules, as described below.

In the meantime, ANSWER, a " grassroots civil rights organization" that works to end war and oppose racism, Affidavit of Brian Becker ¶ 2 (Mar. 14, 2008), J.A. at 32, had posted signs advertising rallies in the District, including events in September 2007 and March 2010. MASF, an unincorporated nonprofit association that conducts " civil and human rights advocacy with a focus on empowering the Muslim American community," Affidavit of Imam Mahdi Bray (Oct. 26, 2013) ¶ 6, Organizations' Add. 2, has in the past and intends in the future to post signs that combine general messages of advocacy and references to specific events, see id. at 6-8. MASF " has sought to engage in postering to the same extent as is afforded others, including those favored within the District of Columbia municipal regulation system." Id. at 9.

Page 398

The District of Columbia has not cited MASF, but in 2007 the District issued multiple citations against ANSWER under the then-current lamppost rule.

ANSWER and MASF sued the District, seeking a declaratory judgment that the District of Columbia's lamppost rule violates their First Amendment and due process rights, and an injunction barring its enforcement. First Amended Complaint, Act Now To Stop War & End Racism Coal. v. District of Columbia ( ANSWER I ), 570 F.Supp.2d 72 (D.D.C. 2008) (No. 07-1495). The district court dismissed both ANSWER's and MASF's claims for lack of standing, and in abstention from pending local administrative enforcement proceedings. ANSWER I, 570 F.Supp.2d at 75-78. The organizations appealed.

This court reversed in part and remanded. Act Now to Stop War & End Racism Coal. v. District of Columbia ( ANSWER II ), 589 F.3d 433, 434, 389 U.S.App.D.C. 1 (D.C. Cir. 2009). The court held that MASF had standing based on " a credible statement of intent to engage in violative conduct," and had shown sufficient likelihood of enforcement against it because its allegations raised " somewhat more than the 'conventional background expectation that the government will enforce the law.'" Id. at 435 (quoting Seegars v. Ashcroft, 396 F.3d 1248, 1253, 364 U.S.App.D.C. 512 (D.C. Cir. 2005)). At the motion to dismiss stage, the court reasoned, an affidavit from MASF's director stating an intention to violate the regulation sufficed to establish standing. Id. at 436. As to ANSWER, the court found that the district court had correctly abstained under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), to the extent that charges against ANSWER for violations of the challenged regulation remained pending in the District of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP