Court of Appeals Dismisses Wag More Dogs Challenge to Arlington’s Sign Ordinance

  • First Amendment argument rejected
  • Dog-themed mural found to be advertisement
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a United States District Court, and dismissed Wag More Dogs, LLC’s challenge to Arlington County’s Sign Ordinance.
 
The Court, in a ruling issued on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, agreed with the County that Arlington’s ordinance contains content-neutral regulations and that the sixty-square-foot limit on business signs in the ordinance is reasonable. Therefore, the restrictions that were applied to prohibit the huge painting on Wag More Dogs’ exterior wall are permissible under the Constitution.
 
“From the beginning, Arlington has said that this case was not about whether citizens may engage in speech, it was about the County’s right to regulate the size of commercial signs and to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules,” said Assistant County Attorney Carol McCoskrie. “The Court agreed with us.”
 
McCoskrie noted that Wag More Dogs, in its papers filed with the Court, had stated that the dog-themed mural it had painted on the side of a building facing a County dog park was intended to attract customers from the nearby dog park, among other things. The Court affirmed that the painting was an advertisement and that it clearly exceeded the size limitations set for all businesses in the area.
 
“This ruling validates the County’s regulation of signs,” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan. “Arlington supports and encourages small businesses in a myriad of ways -- one of those ways is by ensuring a level playing field for all.”
 
The County had contended that the owner of Wag More Dogs, a dog day care and pet-grooming business in south Arlington, sought an unfair advantage over her competitors by not complying with the Sign Ordinance, which regulates the type, size and placement of commercial signs.
 
The Court refused to judge the County’s ordinance by what it called an “unattainable” standard of precision, finding that the ordinance is set out in terms that an “ordinary person exercising ordinary common-sense can sufficiently understand and comply with.”
 
Background
The U.S. District Court for Virginia’s Eastern District on February 11, 2011 dismissed with prejudice the lawsuit brought by Wag More Dogs, LLC owner Kim Houghton late in 2010. Houghton alleged that the County had violated her First Amendment right of free speech in finding that a mural she had commissioned for an outside wall of her business violated Arlington’s sign ordinance.
 
 
 
Arlington, Va., is a world-class residential, business and tourist location that was originally part of the "10 miles square" parcel of land surveyed in 1791 to be the Nation's Capital. It is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, occupying slightly less than 26 square miles. Arlington maintains a rich variety of stable neighborhoods, quality schools and enlightened land use, and received the Environmental Protection Agency's highest award for "Smart Growth" in 2002. Home to some of the most influential organizations in the world - including the Pentagon - Arlington stands out as one of America's preeminent places to live, visit and do business.

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