Riel v. City of Bradford, 05-4425.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtFisher
Citation485 F.3d 736
PartiesThomas RIEL; Diane Thompson; Fred Pysher, Appellants v. CITY OF BRADFORD.
Docket NumberNo. 05-4425.,05-4425.
Decision Date03 May 2007
485 F.3d 736
Thomas RIEL; Diane Thompson; Fred Pysher, Appellants
v.
CITY OF BRADFORD.
No. 05-4425.
United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
Argued December 12, 2006.
Filed: May 3, 2007.

[485 F.3d 740]

Philip B. Friedman, Ambrose, Friedman & Weichler, Erie, PA, Witold J. Walczak (Argued), American Civil Liberties Union, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellants.

Richard A. Lanzillo (Argued), Knox, McLaughlin, Gornall & Sennett, Erie, PA, for Appellee.

Before: FISHER and CHAGARES, Circuit Judges, and BUCKWALTER,* District Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

FISHER, Circuit Judge.


The Appellants are home and business owners who were issued criminal citations by the City of Bradford, Pennsylvania ("City" or "Bradford") for displaying commercial and noncommercial signs on their private property without first obtaining a permit. They argue that the City's sign ordinances, which have now been amended, violate the First Amendment because they are impermissibly content-based, overbroad, vague, and allow too much time to process permit requests. The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania held that the ordinances, as amended, are in fact content-neutral and permissible under the First Amendment based in part on our holding in Rappa v. New Castle County, 18 F.3d 1043 (3d Cir.1994). For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the holding of the District Court.

I.

Appellants Thomas Riel, Diane Thompson, and Fred Pysher are residents of the City of Bradford. The properties at issue are Riel's residence, and Thompson's and Pysher's commercial establishments in downtown Bradford. In March 2004, the City issued more than ten citations to the Appellants for displaying signs on their private property without first receiving approval and a permit from the Historical Architecture Review Board ("HARB"), as required by section 125-15(E) of the Bradford Code. Riel's and Thompson's signs were handmade cardboard and plywood signs containing criticisms of City officials. Some of the signs included: "How unethical is Mayor Henry?", "Can CEO Corignani work an honest 8 hours?", "Stop the City Hall Puppet Show, Mayor Henry", and "Fire Chief Wild Bill McCormack, Resign!". Pysher, on the other hand, was cited for a commercial sign advertising his realty business.

On March 24, 2004, the Appellants filed this action challenging the constitutionality of Bradford Code Chapter 125, section 125-15(E), which regulates signs in Bradford's historic district, and Chapter 178, which regulates signs in all of Bradford. Consent orders entered on March 24, 2004, and June 9, 2004, stayed enforcement of the challenged provisions. On May 14, 2004, and July 13, 2004, the City amended the two ordinances. The parties then filed

485 F.3d 741

cross-motions for summary judgment disputing the facial validity of the new laws.

A. Chapter 178

The first provision that the Appellants challenge is Chapter 178 of the City of Bradford Code, which applies to any outdoor sign or display within the City that can be seen by the general public. It makes it illegal for "any person to erect, repair, alter, relocate or maintain within the City of Bradford any sign" without first obtaining a permit from the Building Inspector, paying a $20 annual permit fee, and filing with the Building Inspector a $10,000 bond or liability insurance policy. Bradford, Pa., Code § 178-3 (2003). In order to obtain a permit, an applicant must disclose personal information, and provide descriptions of the location where the sign will be displayed and of the sign itself, including drawings and specification plans. Id. § 178-4.

The standard governing approval is contained in section 178-6, which directs the Building Inspector to

examine such plans and specifications and other data and the premises upon which it is proposed to erect the sign or other advertising structure, and if it shall appear that the proposed structure is in compliance with all the requirements of this chapter and all other laws and ordinances of the City of Bradford, he shall then issue the erection permit.

Id. § 178-6. Although the original ordinance did not limit the amount of time in which such decisions could be made, the amended rule requires the Building Inspector to act within thirty days of receiving the application. See id.

The ordinance also contains many provisions regulating a sign's appearance and placement. For example, there are size limits that vary depending on location of the sign. There is no size limit for ground signs, which are defined as "any sign supported by uprights or braces placed upon the ground and not attached to any building." Id. § 178-2. Wall signs may be up to 500 square feet in area, roof signs 300 square feet, and temporary signs 100 square feet. Id. §§ 178-24(B), 178-25(B), 178-27(A).

In addition, the ordinance requires that signs comply with Bradford's electrical code. Id. § 178-5. It also prohibits signs that are unsafe, id. § 178-10, that obstruct doors, windows, or fire escapes, id. § 178-17, or that pose a traffic hazard, id. § 178-18. And it regulates the construction, placement, and erection of different types of signs. Id. §§ 178-23 — 178-30.1 All approved signs must "have painted in a conspicuous place thereon, in letters not less than one inch in height, the date of erection [and] the permit number." Id. § 178-11. The ordinance characterizes permits as "mere licenses revocable at any time by the Building Officer." Id. § 178-9.

Finally, Chapter 178 provides a series of exemptions from the permit, fee, and bond requirements. Id. § 178-15. They include temporary signs, identification signs, signs related to the activities being conducted on the property where they are located, traffic and municipal signs, and noncommercial signs placed on private property by the owner or occupant.2 Id.

485 F.3d 742

These exemptions are the main focus of the Appellants' constitutional attack on the ordinance.

Each violation of Chapter 178 is punishable by a fine not exceeding $300 and a prison sentence not exceeding ninety days. Each day the sign is displayed constitutes a separate violation. Id. § 178-34.

B. Chapter 125

The other ordinance challenged by the Appellants is Chapter 125 of the Bradford Code, which delineates the City's historic districts and sets rules and procedures to "protect the distinctive historical character of these districts." Bradford, Pa., Code § 125-1 (2001). Specifically, the Appellants challenge the constitutionality of section 125-15(E), which regulates signs and awnings within historic districts.

When this case was filed, section 125-15(E) prohibited all signs in the historic districts "except for advertising informing the public of a service, business, occupation or profession[] carried on, in or about the property on which such sign or permanent external advertising is displayed." Id. § 125-15(E). Such signs could only be displayed after obtaining a permit from the HARB. Id. The Board's decisions were based on whether the sign was in "conformity [with] exterior material composition, exterior structural design, external appearance and size with similar advertising or information media used in the architectural period of the district." Id.

On May 14, 2004, Bradford amended section 125-15(E) in response to the filing of the Appellants' lawsuit. Now, "noncommercial" and "temporary" (those displayed less than sixty days) signs smaller than twelve square feet are allowed without a permit. Bradford, Pa., Code §§ 125-15(E)(3) & (E)(4) (2004). Residents wishing to display noncommercial signs larger than that must obtain a permit from the HARB. Id. § 125-15(E)(2). All non-temporary commercial signs, regardless of size, must have a permit. Id. § 125-15(E)(1).

The May 14 amendments also imposed time limits on the permit application process. Section 125-10(D) requires the HARB to issue a recommendation to the City Council on a permit application "no later than 30 days after [its next] meeting." Id. § 125-10(D). The City Council must then act on the application "at the council meeting immediately succeeding the receipt of the recommendation from HARB." Id. If the City Council fails to act within this time period, the HARB recommendation is "deemed approved by the council." Id.

A subsequent amendment to Chapter 125, passed on July 13, 2004, slightly altered the standards governing the HARB's decisions. It provided that the review must be "[i]n accordance with the Resource Inventory of building architectural styles of the Bradford Historic District." Id. § 125-15(E)(2). This Inventory lists buildings in the historic district by address, and gives their architectural style, construction material, roof type, building height, and construction date, as well as a brief narrative description of the building. In addition to consulting this Inventory, the HARB's decision about whether or not to issue a permit must be based on "conformity in exterior material composition, exterior structural design, external appearance and size of similar advertising or information media used in the architectural period of the district." Id.

The penalties for violating section 125-15 were untouched by the amendments. The first violation is punished by a fine between $25 and $1000, and possible imprisonment for up to ninety days. Id. § 125-18. The second violation carries a

485 F.3d 743

minimum $100 penalty, and subsequent violations carry a minimum $500 penalty, all with the same maximum fines and prison sentence as the first violation. Id. Each day that a sign is displayed after a violation notice is issued is considered a separate offense. Id.

C. District Court Decision

On August 31, 2005, the District Court entered an order denying the Appellants' motion for summary judgment, and granting the City's motion. Riel v. City of Bradford, No. Civ. A. 04-90, 2005 WL 2106554, *1 (W.D.Pa. Aug. 31, 2005). The Court determined that the challenged ordinances were not...

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  • Rtm Media, L.L.C. v. City of Houston, Civil Case No. 4:07-cv-2944.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • 29 Septiembre 2008
    ...Other cases from outside of the Fifth Circuit also provide persuasive authority on this issue. For example, in Riel v. City of Bradford, 485 F.3d 736 (3rd Cir.2007), the court found that city ordinances regulating the display of commercial and noncommercial signs on private property without......
  • Brown v. City of Pittsburgh, Civil Action No. 06-393.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • 22 Febrero 2008
    ...because such discretion has the potential for becoming a means of suppressing a particular point of view.'" Riel v. City of Bradford, 485 F.3d 736, 755 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Forsyth, 505 U.S. at 130-31, 112 S.Ct. 2395). An ordinance must be sufficiently clear as to allow persons of "ordina......
  • Adams Outdoor Adver. Ltd. P'ship v. Pa. Dep't of Transp., No. 5:17–cv–01253
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 9 Febrero 2018
    ...Clark v. Community for Creative Non–Violence , 468 U.S. 288, 293, 104 S.Ct. 3065, 82 L.Ed.2d 221 (1984) ); Riel v. City of Bradford , 485 F.3d 736, 743 (3d Cir. 2007). "The principal inquiry in determining content neutrality, in speech cases generally and in time, place, or manner cases in ......
  • Kalman v. Cortes, Civil Action No. 09-684.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 30 Junio 2010
    ...and is subject to ‘modes of regulation that might be impermissible in the realm of noncommercial expression.’ ” Riel v. City of Bradford, 485 F.3d 736, 752 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Fla. Bar v. Went For It, Inc., 515 U.S. 618, 623, 115 S.Ct. 2371, 132 L.Ed.2d 541 (1995) (internal quotation mar......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 cases
  • Rtm Media, L.L.C. v. City of Houston, Civil Case No. 4:07-cv-2944.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • 29 Septiembre 2008
    ...Other cases from outside of the Fifth Circuit also provide persuasive authority on this issue. For example, in Riel v. City of Bradford, 485 F.3d 736 (3rd Cir.2007), the court found that city ordinances regulating the display of commercial and noncommercial signs on private property without......
  • Brown v. City of Pittsburgh, Civil Action No. 06-393.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • 22 Febrero 2008
    ...because such discretion has the potential for becoming a means of suppressing a particular point of view.'" Riel v. City of Bradford, 485 F.3d 736, 755 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Forsyth, 505 U.S. at 130-31, 112 S.Ct. 2395). An ordinance must be sufficiently clear as to allow persons of "ordina......
  • Adams Outdoor Adver. Ltd. P'ship v. Pa. Dep't of Transp., No. 5:17–cv–01253
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 9 Febrero 2018
    ...Clark v. Community for Creative Non–Violence , 468 U.S. 288, 293, 104 S.Ct. 3065, 82 L.Ed.2d 221 (1984) ); Riel v. City of Bradford , 485 F.3d 736, 743 (3d Cir. 2007). "The principal inquiry in determining content neutrality, in speech cases generally and in time, place, or manner cases in ......
  • Kalman v. Cortes, Civil Action No. 09-684.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 30 Junio 2010
    ...and is subject to ‘modes of regulation that might be impermissible in the realm of noncommercial expression.’ ” Riel v. City of Bradford, 485 F.3d 736, 752 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Fla. Bar v. Went For It, Inc., 515 U.S. 618, 623, 115 S.Ct. 2371, 132 L.Ed.2d 541 (1995) (internal quotation mar......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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