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KNOEFFLER v. TOWN OF MAMAKATING

March 15, 2000

PAUL KNOEFFLER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
TOWN OF MAMAKATING, DUANE ROE, SUPERVISOR TOWN OF MAMAKATING, SUED IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS, AND JOHN GRIFO, BUILDING INSPECTOR, SUED IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, Senior District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Paul Knoeffler brings this action challenging the constitutionality of three municipal sign ordinances of defendant Town of Mamakating ("Mamakating" or the "Town"). Plaintiff also seeks damages for violation of his constitutional rights, allegedly resulting from enforcement of these sign ordinances. In addition to Mamakating, plaintiff brings this action against defendant John Grifo, building inspector for Mamakating, in his individual capacity.*fn1 Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment on liability. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

On February 18, 1998, defendant Grifo, building inspector for Mamakating, issued an Order to Remedy to plaintiff, stating that "[f]our (4) signs do not meet any of the requirements stipulated in 199-15A" of the Mamakating Town Code. (Id., Ex. 2.) Section 199-15 (before it was amended in 1999, see infra) of the Mamakating Town Code regulates signs and billboards. Subsection "A" states that "[s]igns and billboards may be erected and maintained only when in compliance with the following provisions. . . ." Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(A). Section 199-15(A) goes on to list several permitted signs and billboards, including on-site advertising, address signs, identification signs for hotels and non-dwelling buildings, and sale or rental signs. See Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(A)(1)-(4).

Grifo issued a revised Order to Remedy on March 25, 1998 and sent plaintiff a letter clarifying the alleged violation. (Grifo Aff., Ex. B.) The Revised Order to Remedy stated that plaintiff's signs were in direct violation of §§ 199-15(A) & (C) of the Mamakating Town Code. Grifo explained that although the signs did not meet the requirements of subsection "A," they may be permitted under subsection "C" if the signs were temporary and intended for informational purposes. (Id.) Section 199-15(C) states:

C. Building permits for signs. Building permits shall be required for all billboards. For signs in the interest of the public information and convenience, the Building Inspector, upon approval of the Zoning Board of Appeals, may issue a temporary permit for a period to be designated by said Board. Such temporary signs shall be completely removed by the property owner at the termination of any permit for the erection thereof.

Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(C).

On July 9, 1998, plaintiff filed an application for a permit for "six protest signs, and maybe later some more." (Knoeffler Aff., Ex. 5.) Grifo denied plaintiff's application in a letter dated July 14, 1998 on the grounds that only the Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA") could issue a permit under Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(C).

Plaintiff then applied to the ZBA for a permit allowing him to post his signs. At a public hearing on August 4, 1998, the ZBA received several comments from residents who opposed the application because they believed plaintiff's signs were dangerous and could cause traffic accidents. (Grifo Aff., Ex. B.) In its decision dated September 10, 1998, the ZBA retroactively granted plaintiff's application for a temporary sign permit and ordered plaintiff to remove the signs by September 23, 1998. (Knoeffler Aff., Ex. 8.)

On September 18, 1998, plaintiff, by order to show cause, moved this Court for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction preventing defendants from taking any action to enforce Mamakating's sign ordinances against plaintiff. After conducting a hearing, this Court denied plaintiff's motion on October 7, 1998. At that hearing, defendants offered to permit plaintiff to post two signs without limitation as to subject matter.

However, instead of accepting defendants' settlement offer, plaintiff moved for summary judgment in November 1998. Before the motion was resolved, the Town of Mamakating amended § 199-15 of their sign ordinance. The amended § 199-15 states in relevant part:

A. Purpose. The Town's ability to attract economic development activity is accomplished in part by the enforcement of regulations that maintain an attractive community and streetscape, of which signs are a contributing element. A multiplicity of signs clutter the overall appearance of the Town, detracts from its visual quality, and shall be discouraged.
B. Permit Required. Except for signs erected for the identification of the occupant of a single family or two-family dwelling, no sign shall be erected or installed upon any structure or upon any land, nor shall existing signs be changed, until a sign permit has been obtained from the Building Inspector. No sign shall be erected for any development requiring site development plan or subdivision approval by the Planning Board, without sign plan approval by the Planning Board.

Mamakating Town Code § 199-15 (as amended).

Further, the amended ordinance provided a list of exempted signs, for which no permit is required. See Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(C), as amended. Exempted signs include signs required by government bodies; traffic control signs; government flags; emblems and banners or name and meeting place signs of civic, philanthropic, educational or religious organizations or institutions; signs relating to the tenant's membership in a professional or civic organization; temporary signs pertaining to campaigns, drives, or events of civic, philanthropic, educational or religious institutions, provided the signs are not erected more than three weeks prior to the event, and are removed not later than two weeks after the event; memorial plaques; signs required to be posted by law; signs indicating the name or address of occupant; sale or rental signs; temporary construction signs; signs announcing a change in the status of a business; signs not visible outside a building; signs displayed in a window indicating a public telephone or notary; holiday decorations in season; temporary signs for tag or garage sales; and "No Trespassing" signs. See Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(B), as amended. Relevant to plaintiff's signs, § 199-15(B) states:

(18) Signs setting forth matters of public information and convenience (i.e., statements of personal opinion), including statements of protest other than temporary signs referred in paragraph 199-29C(5) and provided that the size of such sign does not exceed twelve (12) square feet, not more than two (2) signs are placed upon any property, unless such property fronts upon more than one (1) street, in which event two (2) more signs may be erected in each additional frontage, subject to the size requirements established in this paragraph.

Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(B)(18), as amended.

The amended ordinance goes on to state that "[p]olitical signs are regulated in accordance with Chapter 44" of the Mamakating Town Code. See Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(C). The remainder of the amended ordinance provides specifications for the construction and maintenance of the permitted signs and provides a list of prohibited signs. Finally, the Planning Board reserves the right to "impose reasonable limitations on the size of a sign, type and characteristics of illumination, number and location, taking into consideration the uses on the site and the reasonable requirement for communicating information to vehicular or pedestrian traffic." See Mamakating Town Code § 199-15(G)(3), as amended.

Plaintiff now seeks compensatory and punitive damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the basis that the enforcement of the original Mamakating Town Code § 199-15 violated his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff also seeks a declaration that § 199-15, as amended, is unconstitutional. Finally, plaintiff asks that this Court declare Chapter 44 of Mamakating Town ...


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