Friday, September 29, 2023
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Repeal of ‘For-Sale’ Sign Ban Doesn’t End Lawsuit

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - A temporary repeal of an Alexandria law banning for-sale signs on vehicles is not sufficient to render an aggrieved resident's lawsuit moot, a federal judge ruled.

In a complaint filed in October, Alexandria resident Scott McLean said he was fined repeatedly in 2012 for displaying two standard, store-bought for-sale signs in his Chevrolet Malibu, and parking it on a city street near his home.

Finally, wishing to sell the car and not be fined for violating the city's speech ordinance in the process, McLean said he resorted to parking the car outside city limits -- a strategy that forced him to walk a half-mile between the car and his home whenever he needed to use it.

By the time he finally sold the car, he said, he had been making these almost daily journeys for nearly four months.

McLean sued the city became he wants to sell another vehicle, his 2007 Dodge Ram 1500, and would like to advertise the sale himself, while parking his truck nearer to his home.

His compliant contended the city's speech ordinance, "is a content-based restriction that deprives McLean of his First Amendment right to communicate a truthful message to the public about a lawful item for sale."

He further argued that even if the ordinance is content-neutral, "it would violate the First Amendment because it does not directly advance any substantial government interest and is overly brad, burdening significantly more speech than is necessary to further any government interests."

According to US District Judge James E. Cacheris, since McLean filed his lawsuit, the City of Alexandria announced it would suspend the ordinance, and the city filed for dismissal on those grounds.

But Judge Cacheris noted the repeal process could take months to complete, and even then, the city is reserving the right to resume enforcement in the future.

As a result, he said, the case cannot be dismissed as moot.

"Mere voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct does not moot a case," he wrote. "As counsel for the City conceded at oral argument, there is a possibility that the City Council will not repeal the Ordinance and resume enforcement in the future."

"Repealing the challenged law does not render a case moot if there is a reasonably possibility that the government would reenact the law if the proceedings were dismissed," Cacheris said.

After the ruling, McLean's attorney, Christina Martin, said the judge's decision was the right call, "[b]ecause the City has not repealed or amended the ordinance and thus may again decide to start fining people for advertising their vehicles for sale.

"The court's opinion also made clear that regardless of whether the City decides to later repeal the ordinance, our lawsuit will not become moot and our client will have his day in court. That's because McLean seeks both protection from future enforcement of the ordinance, and a declaration that the City violated his rights by subjecting him to the unconstitutional ordinance. This is good news for our client and all those who love the Constitution," Martin said.

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