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Case Name Reed v. Town of Gilbert FA-AZ-0002
Docket / Court 2:07-cv-00522-SRB ( D. Ariz. )
State/Territory Arizona
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Case Summary
The town of Gilbert, Arizona, enacted a town code that limited the number of signs churches could place announcing the time and place of their meetings. On March 8, 2007, Good New Presbyterian Church, represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, challenged this code by filing this § 198 ... read more >
The town of Gilbert, Arizona, enacted a town code that limited the number of signs churches could place announcing the time and place of their meetings. On March 8, 2007, Good New Presbyterian Church, represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, challenged this code by filing this § 1983 action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The plaintiffs alleged that the code violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment because the code regulated signs based on the content of the speech. Specifically, the plaintiffs noted that the code allegedly afforded ideological and political signs more protections than signs for religious assemblies. Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged that the code violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because groups and individuals similarly situated to the Good News Presbyterian Church were allowed to display larger signs, more signs, signs without time limits, and signs that are not restricted to certain areas. The code violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment because the sign restrictions hindered the plaintiffs’ ability to invite others to their services, which was an instruction of their sincerely-held religious beliefs. The plaintiffs also alleged that the code violated the Arizona Religious Freedom Amendment because it penalized the exercise of religion by subject it to greater restrictions that were not applicable to other activities. Finally, the plaintiffs alleged that the code violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the code did not define what would be considered an “ideological” sign and, thus, there was allegedly no warning or notice as to what would be considered an ideological sign. For these violations, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

On March 30, 2007, the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction against the defendants that would keep them from enforcing the town code. On April 17, 2007, the defendants also moved for a preliminary injunction. The defendants stated that the parties stipulated to an injunction pending the outcome of the litigation and asked the district court to enter it. On May 9, 2007, the court entered the stipulated preliminary injunction.

On January 8, 2008, the town amended its code. The changes allowed event signs to be displayed for 12 hours before the event, stated that four signs per property were permitted, and permitted non-profit organizations to display signs in addition to religious assemblies. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that alleged that the amended sign code still violated Free Speech, Free Exercise, Equal Protection, and Arizona state law. The amended complaint no longer alleged that the town code violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Following the amendments, the plaintiffs moved for a second preliminary injunction that would enjoin the defendants from enforcing the amended code. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a second preliminary injunction on September 30, 2008. 2008 WL 11339947.

On October 27, 2008, the plaintiffs appealed the district court’s denial of their preliminary injunction to the Ninth Circuit.

On November 5, 2008 the defendants moved for summary judgment. However, on December 2, 2008, the district court ordered that the plaintiff’s response to the motion for summary judgment would be stayed until the Ninth Circuit ruled on plaintiff’s appeal.

On November 20, 2009, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s denial of the second preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit held that the code was a content-neutral regulation that did not impermissible favor commercial speech over non-commercial speech. The Ninth Circuit then remanded the case to the district court to consider the plaintiff’s allegations that the code violated the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause by favoring some noncommercial speech over other non-commercial speech. 587 F.3d 966.

The case then proceeded to discovery.

On August 27, 2010, both parties moved for summary judgment. On February 11, 2011, the district court granted the town of Gilbert’s motion for summary judgment stating that the Code did not violate the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech because the code did not distinguish on the basis of the message. Additionally, the district court found that the code did not violate the Equal Protection Clause because the code did not regulate on the basis of content, “but rather to address legitimate concerns of safety and aesthetics.” The district court also found that the code did not violate the Free Exercise Clause because the code, while applying restrictions to qualifying event signs that were different from those applied to political and ideological signs, did not apply restrictions that were more restrictive. Additionally, the court noted that the qualifying event sign restrictions applied to both the plaintiffs and “any other non-profit wishing to direct the public to an event.” Finally, the district court found that the code did not violate Arizona state law because it did not compel the plaintiffs to do something in violation of their religious beliefs. 832 F.Supp.2d 1070.

On March 11, 2011, the plaintiffs appealed the district court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit.

On February 8, 2013, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The Ninth Circuit stated that the code was permissible, as there was no discrimination “among similar events or speakers” and that the treatment on the signs was content neutral. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit stated that the code did not violate the plaintiffs’ right to free exercise of religion or equal protection of the laws. 707 F.3d 1057.

The plaintiffs then petitioned for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari on July 1, 2014. 573 U.S. 957.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision on June 18, 2015. The Supreme Court held that the signs were content based and, thus, the code must be subject to strict scrutiny. The Supreme Court found the code lacked narrow tailoring because the code was “hopelessly underinclusive” because of the greater flexibility it allowed ideological and political signs to operate with. As a result, the Supreme Court found the town code unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Court then remanded to the district court consistent with the opinion. 135 S.Ct. 2218.

On December 30, 2015, the district court entered a permanent injunction with prejudice against the town from enforcing the code. No attorneys' fees were awarded and the case is now closed.

Cianan Lesley - 02/26/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
General
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit religious organization
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) Town of Gilbert
Plaintiff Description A church in Arizona
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filing Year 2007
Case Closing Year 2015
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
2:07-cv-00522 (D. Ariz.)
FA-AZ-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/30/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-AZ-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/08/2007
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 32]
FA-AZ-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/12/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
COA Mandate and Opinion Affirming District Court's Decision [Ct. of App. ECF# 72]
FA-AZ-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/16/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 117] (832 F.Supp.2d 1070) (D. Ariz.)
FA-AZ-0002-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/11/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
COA Opinion (707 F.3d 1057)
FA-AZ-0002-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/08/2013
Source: Westlaw
Supreme Court Opinion Reversing COA Judgment (135 S.Ct. 2218 / 192 L.Ed.2d 236)
FA-AZ-0002-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/18/2015
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Alito, Samuel A. Jr. (Third Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0006
Bolton, Susan Ritchie (D. Ariz.) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0004 | FA-AZ-0002-9000
Kennedy, Anthony McLeod (Ninth Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0006
McKeown, M. Margaret (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0003 | FA-AZ-0002-0005
Sotomayor, Sonia (SCOTUS, S.D.N.Y., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0006
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bull, Benjamin W. (Arizona) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0001 | FA-AZ-0002-0002 | FA-AZ-0002-9000
Cortman, David A. (Georgia) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0001 | FA-AZ-0002-0002 | FA-AZ-0002-9000
Tedesco, Jeremy D. (Arizona) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-0001 | FA-AZ-0002-0002 | FA-AZ-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Alvarado, Kim Seibert (Arizona) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-9000
Grasso, Robert Jr. (Arizona) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-9000
Savrin, Phillip W. (Georgia) show/hide docs
FA-AZ-0002-9000

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