Mobile Media on the Go v. Salt Lake City Corporation
Salt Lake City Attorney
451 South State #505
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111
West Valley City Attorney
3600 Constitution Blvd.
West Valley City, UT 84119-3720
December 12, 2001
Re: City Ordinances Burdening Commercial Speech
Dear Mr. Cutler and Mr. Morris,
We are writing to share complaints we have recently received about your cities’ enforcement of Salt Lake City Code 12.56.510 and West Valley City Code 22-4-114. Those ordinances prohibit parking or operating a vehicle upon any roadway for the “principle purpose of . . . [d]isplaying such vehicle for sale; . . . [or] [d]isplaying advertising.” The complaints we have received are from people who were cited simply for having a “For Sale” sign in the window of their automobile. While we succeeded in having the citations dismissed, we remain concerned not only about the enforcement of the ordinances against private individuals who might wish to advertise their cars for sale in that clearly permissible fashion, but also about the serious chilling effect and potential outright prohibitions the ordinances impose on clearly protected First Amendment commercial speech.
As you are aware, commercial speech is entitled to constitutional protection. City ordinances regulating such speech must directly advance an important governmental interest, and cannot be more extensive than necessary to serve that interest. Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n., 447 U.S. 557,566 (1980). Based on these principles, ordinances similar to those in your cities have been found unconstitutional. In Burkow v. City of Los Angeles, 119 F.Supp.2d 1076 (C.D. Cal. 2000), for example, the City of Los Angeles was preliminarily enjoined from enforcing an ordinance prohibiting advertisements to sell vehicles on public property. Subsequently, the city voluntarily agreed not to enforce the ordinance in the future. Similarly, in City of Milwaukee v. Blondis, 460 N.W.2d 815 (Wis. App. 1990), the court found an ordinance prohibiting leaving any vehicle displayed for sale on any highway unconstitutional because it impinged on protected commercial speech and granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The United States Supreme Court has also found similar restrictions on the placement of for sale signs on residential property to be unconstitutional. See Linmark Ass., Inc. v. Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85 (1977).
In light of these precedents, we would like to give your respective cities the opportunity to discuss options in this matter before lengthy litigation is initiated. Please have the appropriate person in your office contact us to explore those options.
Janelle P. Eurick
Stephen C. Clark