by Lisa Sorg
The Town of Cary is no longer screwed. Nor is it, according to today’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, doing the screwing.
The court ruled in favor of the town, determining that its sign ordinance does not violate a First Amendment right to free speech. The decision overturned a lower court ruling.
The case stems from a disagreement between the town and Cary resident David Bowden, who died in 2011, over roadwork that allegedly resulted in water runoff damaging his home.
In response, Bowden hired someone to paint a sign on his house that read "Screwed by the Town of Cary," which, the town said, violated the sign ordinance. In 2009, Cary officials threatened to fine Bowden if he didn't change the size of his sign, although he did not have to alter its message.
However, a U.S. district court ruled in 2011 that unless Cary regulated holiday decorations and public art, it couldn’t enforce the ordinance in the Bowden case. A judge ordered the town to pay his legal bills—Bowden was represented by the ACLU—and assessed $1 in damages.
The town appealed the case—Bowden’s daughter carried on with the lawsuit—and the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., took it up last year.