The opinion of the court was delivered by: Messitte, District Judge.
An ordinance of Prince George's County, Maryland prohibits the
posting of "campaign signs" more than 45 days before an election.
The signs of an unsuccessful primary candidate must be removed
within 10 days after the primary; those of a candidate successful
in the primary who posted before the primary may remain up until
10 days following the general election. The ordinance requires,
before the signs are posted, that a permit be obtained and a fee
Wayne Curry, a former candidate for (and now) County Executive
of the County, and Stella Grooms and Melvin V. Walker, Jr.,
private homeowners in the County, have challenged the
constitutionality of the ordinance. They have sued the County,
asking for injunctive and declaratory relief on the grounds that
the ordinance violates their right to free speech under the First
and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The County
contends that the ordinance meets constitutional requirements.
The Court holds that on its face the ordinance, insofar as it
imposes durational limitations on the posting of political
campaign signs by individuals at their private residences,
unconstitutionally impinges upon their First Amendment rights.
Accordingly, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' Motion for
Summary Judgment and deny that of Defendant.*fn1
The parties agree that there is no genuine issue of material
fact and that summary judgment is appropriate. See Fed.R.Civ.P.
56; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106
S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
Section 27-628 of the Prince George's County Code, part of the
County's zoning ordinance dealing with signs, reads:
Public interest events/campaign
(1) At least 10 feet behind the street line; and
(2) At least 50 feet from the nearest corner of any
(1) Campaign signs may be erected forty-five (45)
days prior to the election. The sign shall be
removed within ten (10) days after the general
election, or within 10 days after the primary
election if the candidate is not successful.
(2) Other public interest signs may be erected for
a period not to exceed 30 consecutive days.
(1) One permit is required per applicant per event.
In addition to having to obtain a permit for each "event" as
set forth in sub-section (c)(1), see also County Code §
27-596(a), persons wishing to post a campaign sign must, as part
of the application, pay a fee.*fn2
When Plaintiff Curry commenced this suit he was a candidate for
the Office of County Executive of Prince George's County and
Plaintiffs Grooms and Walker were County homeowners who wished to
post Curry campaign signs in the yards of their homes. When
Grooms attempted to post a Curry sign on her property prior to
the commencement of the permissible pre-election period, she was
warned by County officials that she was in violation of the
ordinance. While Walker posted no sign in advance of the
allowable pre-election period, he expressed a desire to do so but
held off because he was fearful of possible prosecution by the
Prince George's County authorities. Sanctions might have included
warning letters and fines. See County Code, § 27-609(a) and
(c). Curry, as a candidate for office, claimed an interest in
enabling supporters to post signs favorable to his candidacy on
At the time suit was initiated, the ordinance limited the
posting of campaign signs to a period beginning 20 days prior to
the election in question and required their removal within 10
days after. On July 13, 1994, however, the Prince George's County
Council amended Section 27-628(b)(1) to extend the pre-election
period to 45 days. The amended ordinance was to go into effect on
August 31, 1994, thirteen days before the primary election.
Because the ordinance as amended would have no effect on
Plaintiffs' ability to challenge the 20-day pre-election period
in relation to the September 13, 1994 primary and because the
amended ordinance failed to come to terms with the constitutional
implications of time restrictions on the signs, Plaintiffs
determined to press their claims in this lawsuit.
Accordingly, on July 15, 1994, the parties appeared before
Judge Walter E. Black, Jr. of this Court in pursuit of a
temporary restraining order ("TRO") with respect to the existing
ordinance. Following a brief hearing in which he concluded that
the pre-election durational limitation of the ordinance was of
doubtful constitutionality, Judge Black issued a TRO enjoining
the County from enforcing it. The election went forward and
Curry, as it turned out, won both the primary and general
elections.*fn4 From all that appears, the County has not
strictly enforced the ordinance since that time. Nevertheless,
given the continuing uncertain constitutionality of the ordinance
and the desire of Plaintiffs to know when in fact they may place
campaign signs on or about their residences with legal impunity,
the Court has been asked to proceed and render its opinion.*fn5
Plaintiffs attack the ordinance on several grounds:*fn6
1) The ordinance, they say, is unconstitutionally vague and
ambiguous in that it fails to define "campaign sign" and "event,"
requiring persons of ordinary intelligence to guess at its
meaning in derogation of First Amendment rights.
2) The ordinance, on its face, unconstitutionally bans signs as
a medium of political speech for all but 45 days before and 10
days after an election.
3) The ordinance fails both the content-based and
content-neutral tests for evaluating governmental burdens on
A) It is content-based because other sections of the zoning
code favor commercial over noncommercial speech, permitting
commercial signs, for example, to be posted for much longer
periods, e.g. "for sale" signs may be posted for 6 month
periods renewable for an additional 6 months whereas campaign
signs may only be up 45 days before and 10 days after an
election. Compare County Code, § 27-618(a)(2) and § 27-628. The
ordinance is also content-based because it distinguishes between
permissible and impermissible signs on the basis of the sign's
content and subject matter. In either case, there is no
compelling state interest justifying such discrimination.
B) Alternatively, say Plaintiffs, even if considered
content-neutral, the ordinance is not narrowly tailored to
further a substantial governmental interest and ample alternative
means for communicating the desired message do not exist.
4) Requiring a private resident to obtain a permit and pay a
fee before posting campaign signs imposes further undue burdens
on the right to free speech.
The County denies that the ordinance is impermissibly vague,
that it prefers commercial over non-commercial speech, or that it
is content-based as opposed to content-neutral. It contends that
its interests in aesthetics and traffic safety are substantial,
that the durational restrictions are narrowly tailored to further
those interests, and that ample alternative means in fact do
exist for Plaintiffs to express their views. The County also
asserts that a permit and fee requirements are not unduly
burdensome. The County ...