NORTH REDINGTON BEACH – Town leaders are contemplating their next move following a recent decision in federal district court declaring a North Redington Beach sign ordinance unconstitutional.
Town officials were scheduled to discuss the matter during a non-public meeting Feb. 16.
United States District Judge James Moody Jr. ruled that the ordinance infringes on the right of free speech protected by the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
John Messmore, owner of the Sweet Sage Café, 16726 Gulf Blvd., filed the lawsuit after he was cited in 2015 for violating the town’s sign ordinance.
Specifically, the violations related to some flip-flop decals applied to the white vinyl fence around the parking lot of his business, a plastic display panel next to a dog bowl with the message “Paws For Water,” a plastic display panel attached to a white picket fence near the entrance reading “No Tiptoeing through our Tulips,” and a small display panel inside a planter reading “Sense of humor required.”
Moody agreed with the plaintiff’s motion that the North Redington Beach sign ordinance is “facially unconstitutional because it regulates based on content of the speech and cannot survive public scrutiny.”
A key precedent in Moody’s decision was the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Reed vs. the town of Gilbert, Arizona, which stated a government, including a municipal government vested with state authority, “has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.”
A similar opinion came about from the Eleventh Circuit Court in the 2005 case Solantic, LLC vs. city of Neptune Beach.
In Reed, the plaintiff was a church pastor who had been cited many times for posting temporary signs that directed church members to services. The church was cited for exceeding time limits for the display of temporary signs and for failing to put the date of the event on the sign.
The Supreme Court considered whether the town’s sign code was content based on its face. The high court ruled the Gilbert sign code was a content-based regulation of speech.
Clearwater attorney Luke Lirot, who represented North Redington Beach in the case, said he was surprised by the outcome. Lirot also said the decision, coupled with the Reed decision, “hog ties local governments on sign ordinances.”
Messmore was represented by attorneys Joseph Kenny and Timothy Weber of St. Petersburg.
On Feb. 10, Messmore and his legal team filed a separate lawsuit in federal court asking for $31,668 in legal fees.