On Monday, a farmers’ market voluntarily dismissed its free speech lawsuit against the City of Scottsdale after the City rewrote its sign code to address many of the violations identified in the case. Green Bee Produce, the plaintiff in the case, had asked a court to declare that portions of the City’s sign code were unconstitutional restrictions on the market’s free speech rights.
Rather than defend the law, the City rewrote it in an effort to comply with the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions.
The case began when the City issued an order forcing Aaron Shearer, the owner of Green Bee Produce, to stop posting signs that directed potential customers to her two farmers’ markets. Without the signs, attendance plummeted, and Shearer was forced to close one of them down entirely. City officials denied her request to post signs directing customers to her other market. Although Shearer appealed that decision, the City’s order soon forced her to close the second market as well. At the same time, other Scottsdale businesses were given greater latitude to post signs off-premises. In other words, Scottsdale’s sign restrictions allowed some signs to be posted without any permit, while other signs either required a permit or were totally prohibited.
The new law appears to address Shearer’s primary concerns, which is why the Goldwater Institute, which represents Shearer, filed a voluntary dismissal of the case in court today. However, the dismissal leaves open the possibility that the case can be re-filed if constitutional violations continue in the future.
“One of the most glaring problems with the old law was how it gave the government tremendous discretion to decide who got permits, and how many they got,” said Adi Dynar, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute and lead counsel on the case. “Unfettered discretion and vague guidelines for how to get a permit to speak are clear First Amendment violations.”
But concerns remain. “Although the new law is an improvement, it is possible that the City will enact rules that allow discretion and discrimination to creep back into the process,” Dynar continued. “If that happens, we will be right back in court to challenge the new law. We will find out how Scottsdale processes Aaron’s new permit applications soon.”
Shearer looks forward to running her farmers’ markets again starting this fall. “I just want customers to be able to find our events,” she said. “These signs help us do that by getting people to our markets easily and safely.”
This lawsuit is the latest example of how the Goldwater Institute works in courts across the country to protect constitutional rights. Established in 2007, the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation challenges violations of the Constitution in state and federal courts and works to restore the rights to which all Americans are entitled.