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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Equal Protection Issue in Ban on Sign Wavers

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - The owner of Liberty Tax Service does not have a civil rights case against a California city that bans the use of "sign wavers" on street corners, a federal judge ruled.

Marshawn Govan, owner of Liberty Tax Service in Clovis, Calif., employs workers who dress in Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam costumes and wave small signs to solicit business.

He claimed that two Clovis police officers told one of his employees this past January to either put the Liberty sign down or face arrest. The next day, Govan was allegedly ticketed for violation of Clovis' Sign Law, which places restrictions on "directional signs."

For the next several days, patrol vehicles parked in front of the Liberty Tax Service office and Govan was ticketed multiple times, according to the complaint.

Govan alleged that Clovis "demoralized" his business "by defamation of character due to this constant harassment which has affected business productivity by intimidating [Liberty Tax Service] employees and clients with police presence."

Previously the court dismissed all but Govan's equal protection claim, which alleged that Clovis' Sign Law "favors certain groups and organizations such has homebuilders, while simultaneously prohibiting the speech of other groups that would cause no more detriment to" the city's interests.

Govan had further alleged that the discriminatory provisions of the sign law do no advance any legitimate governmental interest, and are not limited enough for their purpose.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill dismissed Govan's last remaining claim on Tuesday, finding initially that Govan lacked standing to challenge the Sign Law. Govan failed to show that the directional sign provisions "have any relationship to the harms to plaintiff alleged in the [complaint] regarding sign wavers," the ruling states.

Clovis persuaded the court that its Sign Law is not content-based, with O'Neill noting that "directional sign provisions rationally relate to a legitimate interest to safely and efficiently direct the public to projects in newly developing areas." The Sign Law's animated and moving sign prohibitions "rationally relate to public safety and promotion and enhancement of the city's character," according to the ruling.

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