aclu-logo

Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

Ogden City v. Bruce Edwards and Bruce Edwards v. Ogden City (2003)

01 October 2003 Published in Resolved Cases

Free Expression - Frustrated by his inability to resolve a series of disputes with Ogden City officials, Ogden resident Bruce Edwards resorted to a different form of petitioning for redress of his grievances: he posted signs expressing criticism of the city on several vacant buildings that he owns in the downtown area. As city officials and Edwards sought to work out their differences, in December 2001, the city council enacted an ordinance that provided in part that “a vacant building and the premises shall be kept free of all interior or exterior signs, displays or graffiti,” subject to limited exceptions.

Ogden City initiated a criminal prosecution against Edwards for violating the new ordinance, and in a rare move, initiated a civil action as well, seeking a court order requiring Edwards to remove his signs. On February 6, 2002 – one day before the Olympic torch was to go through Ogden – Ogden City argued that Edwards’ signs detracted from the city’s efforts “to present itself as a clean, safe, and desirous environment for parents to raise families and businesses to enjoy prosperity,” and Second District Court Judge Parley Baldwin granted a temporary restraining order.

On February 26, 2002, we filed an answer and counterclaim to the charges against Edwards in which we argued that the city has not demonstrated a compelling interest that would justify the restriction of Edwards’ core political speech on his private property. We maintained that because the ordinance prohibits legal conduct protected by the Constitution, including lawful speech on private property, it is facially over broad. And finally, we argued that as applied to Edwards, the ordinance is not content-neutral, since the city’s enforcement of the ordinance against Edwards reveals its intent to suppress a viewpoint with which the city disagrees. On April 5, 2002, we filed a memorandum in opposition to plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction and in support of motion for partial summary judgment and on May 14, 2002 we submitted our reply memorandum in support of motion for partial summary judgment.

In a move that underscores the ordinance’s over breadth and viewpoint-bias, Ogden City amended the law in July 2002 to allow a television crew to hang signs on vacant buildings for filming a WB series. Upon the discretion of the mayor, vacant buildings - including those owned by Edwards - were now available for the posting of viewpoints sanctioned by the city.

On October 1, 2003, Second District Judge Parley Baldwin ruled in favor of Edwards and overturned Ogden City’s ordinance. In his decision, Judge Baldwin stated, “The sweeping inclusion of the ban understandably would dismay the average American, who given this nation’s proudly proclaimed history of special respect for individual liberty and private property, would be surprised to learn that he could not display flags, religious symbols, political placards, or even bumper stickers from the windows of his vacant building.”