Church Sign Overcomes Property Owner's Protest
(CN) - A Pennsylvania woman waited too long to sue her town over the "eyesore" sign for a Baptist church it posted near her home, a federal judge ruled.
The dispute here dates back to 2008 when the pastor of a church in Shickshinny Borough informed Francene Tearpock-Martini that he planned to advertise on her property in 2008.
Though she was a member of the borough council, Tearpock-Martini could not interfere with the sign's placement.
Within a month, Tearpock-Martini's fellow council members voted to approve the installation of the sign, which reads: "Bible Baptist Church welcomes you!" and has an arrow with "1 block" written on it, plus images of a gold cross and a white Bible.
The church placed the sign on the state- and borough-owned rights of way bordering Tearpock-Martini's property, which she has owned since May 25, 2005.
Tearpock-Martini, in turn, placed her own sign in front of the sign for the church. Her sign read: "This church sign violates my rights as a taxpayer & property owner. Residential neighborhoods are not zoned for advertisement signs!"
She said the borough's code enforcement officer directed her to remove her sign. When the church sign fell down, Shickshinny reinstalled it with heavy equipment and poured concrete. The town also repeatedly ratifies its installation and maintenance of the sign.
Tearpock-Martini sued Shickshinny and four council members last year, claiming violations of her rights to equal protection, establishment of religion and free speech under the First and 14th Amendments.
U.S. District Judge James Munley dismissed the case last week after finding that the statute of limitations had lapsed.
"Plaintiff's amended complaint indicates that the defendants' actions took place in 2008," Munley wrote. "Thus the two-year statute of limitations would have expired by the time plaintiff brought suit in 2012."
The court refused to apply the continuing violations doctrine and toll the statute of limitations.
"The plaintiff can evidently see the sign from her property and may consider it an eyesore of sorts," Munley wrote. "These effects continue to this day. The fact that the effects remain, however, does not extend the statute of limitations."
Munley also added that "the mere existence of the sign of which plaintiff complains does not amount to a continuing violation. The township acted approximately four years before the complaint was filed, and the fact that plaintiff still experiences the ill effects of those acts does not extend the statute of limitations."