SACRAMENTO, CA - The owner of a health club facing hundreds of dollars in fines for a sandwich board sign advertising his business claims the city's sign ordinance is unconstitutional.
A civil rights organization filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the Got Muscle Health Club on the grounds portions of the city's sign ordinance violate the free speech and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
Got Muscle was first cited by a code enforcement officer in November because sandwich boards and other portable signs with commercial advertising are prohibited.
The business faces up to $1,000 per day for violating the ordinance.
The city's sign ordinance makes exceptions for real estate signs and various non-commercial activities including campaign signs, flags, and temporary signs for fundraising, religious or civic events.
William Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice, said the city can't decide which messages are legal and which are not.
"The First Amendment doesn't allow the government to distinguish among speakers and it doesn't allow the government to distinguish among content," Maurer said. "Unfortunately, that's exactly what the city of Sacramento is doing."
Got Muscle owner Carl Fears says the sandwich board on the lawn in front of his business at 8280 Folsom Boulevard provides as many as a half-dozen walk-in customers daily.
"Code enforcement says we're in violation, which we find quite odd because the rest of the businesses in Sacramento do the exact same thing," Fears said.
According to the lawsuit, city code enforcement chief Ron O'Connor said the city only acts on complaints and someone complained about the Got Muscle sign.
The lawsuit seeks damages of one dollar and a permanent injunction barring the city of Sacramento from enforcing portions of the sign ordinance found to be in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
A spokeswoman for the city of Sacramento did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net