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NORTHAMPTON COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY v. HANOVER TOWNSHIP

April 26, 2004.

NORTHAMPTON COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY, Individually and on Behalf of All Its Candidates for Public Office and the Citizen Electors of Northampton County; and JOE LONG, Individually and as Chairman of the Northampton County Democratic Party, Plaintiffs
v.
HANOVER TOWNSHIP; ALLEN TOWNSHIP; BOROUGH OF GLENDON; TOWNSHIP OF BETHLEHEM; BOROUGH OF HELLERTOWN; BOROUGH OF BATH; TOWNSHIP OF PALMER; ROSETO BOROUGH; BOROUGH OF WALNUTPORT WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP; PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP; BOROUGH OF BANGOR; BUSHKILL TOWNSHIP; EAST ALLEN TOWNSHIP; LEHIGH TOWNSHIP; BOROUGH OF NAZARETH; BOROUGH OF NORTH CATASAUQUA; WILLIAMS TOWNSHIP; and CITY OF EASTON



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES KNOLL GARDNER, District Judge

OPINION

INTRODUCTION

  This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed February 17, 2004 on behalf of plaintiffs.*fn1 By Order of the undersigned dated March 2, 2004 we scheduled a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. A hearing on plaintiffs' motion was conducted before the undersigned on March 8, 2004.

  By Order of the undersigned dated March 8, 2004 we granted plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction against defendant Township of Palmer.*fn2 For the reasons expressed below, we deny plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction in all other respects.

  JURISDICTION

  Jurisdiction is based upon federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ___ 1331. Supplemental jurisdiction is proper over plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ___ 1367(a). Venue is appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ___ 1391(b)(1), (b)(2) and (c) because the events giving rise to plaintiffs' claims allegedly occurred in this judicial district, namely, Northampton County, Pennsylvania.

  PLAINTIFFS' COMPLAINT

  Plaintiffs are the Northampton County Democratic Party ("Party") and Joe Long. Plaintiff Party brings this suit "Individually and on behalf of all its candidates for public office and the citizen electors of Northampton County". Plaintiff Joe Long brings this suit "individually and as Chairman of the Northampton County Democratic Party".

  Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this court on February 17, 2004. The Complaint alleges that one city, ten townships and eight boroughs in Northampton County, Pennsylvania*fn3 have political sign ordinances which plaintiffs allege directly effect them. Plaintiffs also allege that these ordinances interfere with plaintiffs' rights to free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as made applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

  Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the various political sign ordinances infringe their rights to conduct political campaigns for various public offices using political yard signs on private property and the public right-of-way. More specifically, plaintiffs allege that the various ordinances require:
(a) permits and/or licenses;
(b) fees and/or deposits;
(c) pre-election time limits for posting signs;
(d) post-election time limits for removing signs;
(e) size limitations on signs;
(f) numerosity limitations on signs per residential lot;
(g) numerosity limitations on off-premises signs; and
(h) bans on posting signs within the public right-of-way.
Plaintiffs contend that they are actively involved in every election within the 19 local municipalities in Northampton County by nominating and campaigning for the candidates for various public offices. The public offices on the ballot this election year include President of the United States, a United States Senator, a United States Congressman and various Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offices including Attorney General, Treasurer and Auditor General.

  Plaintiff Party and its candidates allege that they customarily purchase political signs for public display. The signs are then distributed throughout Northampton County and within the 19 defendant municipalities to enable the candidates and their supporters to post the signs in a public forum so that the signs can be read by other citizen electors on private property (including residential property) within sight of a public road, locations along public roads, and in the rights-of-way of public roads.

  Plaintiffs further contend that there is no other reasonable, effective or affordable alternative to political signs in conducting a campaign for public office within the defendant municipalities. Finally, plaintiffs assert that defendants' various political sign ordinances are unconstitutional; and that the ordinances will disrupt free and fair elections in 2004 and beyond by threatening governmental action against plaintiffs, its candidates and supporters, and the citizens of the respective municipalities.

  PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  On February 17, 2004 plaintiffs filed their Complaint together with a Motion for Preliminary Injunction against the various municipalities. On February 18, 2004 plaintiffs served all defendants except defendant Roseto Borough with the Complaint and Motion for Preliminary Injunction. On February 19, 2004 plaintiffs served defendant Roseto Borough.

  On March 2, 2004 plaintiffs' Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of defendant Township of Bethlehem was filed. Moreover, by Order dated March 2, 2004, we scheduled plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction for hearing on March 8, 2004.

  On March 8, 2004 plaintiffs filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal regarding defendants Borough of Glendon, Borough of Hellertown, Borough of North Catasauqua, Borough of Walnutport, City of Easton, Lehigh Township, Plainfield Township, Allen Township and the Borough of Bath. In addition, as noted above, by separate Order dated March 8, 2004, by agreement of counsel, we dismissed defendant Williams Township from this matter.

  Thus, at the commencement of the March 8, 2000 hearing on plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction the only parties which remained were Roseto Borough, Washington Township, the Borough of Bangor, Bushkill Township, East Allen Township, the Borough of Nazareth and the Township of Palmer.

  FINDINGS OF FACT

  Based upon the pleadings, record papers, exhibits, stipulations of counsel and the evidence presented at the hearing held March 8, 2004, the pertinent facts are as follows.

  Plaintiff Joseph Long is the Chairman of the Northampton County Democratic Party. Furthermore, Mr. Long is on the April 27, 2004 primary election ballot as a delegate for United States presidential candidate John Kerry in the 15th Congressional District. The 15th Congressional District is comprised of all of Lehigh County and Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and portions of Montgomery County and Berks County, Pennsylvania. Mr. Long is authorized to bring this action by the members of the Northampton County Democratic Committee.

  Mr. Long has a long history of participation in political campaigns beginning in the early 1960's through the present, volunteering his time to local, state and federal candidates. Through the years, Mr. Long has participated in setting up phone banks, putting up political signs, operating "get-out-the-vote" campaigns and coordinating radio and television advertising on behalf of various political candidates.

  Plaintiff Northampton County Democratic Party is a political party as defined by Pennsylvania law.*fn4 The Party will endorse a slate of candidates in the 2004 election cycle, including the primary and general elections for various local, state and federal offices.

  Political signs are used by almost every candidate for political office at the local, state and federal level as a means of obtaining name recognition for the particular candidate. Political signs are an effective and more economically viable means for many candidates to get their names, and sometimes a message, out to potential voters. Moreover, political signs are less costly than other traditional methods of advertising such as radio, television and print media.

  Political signs are dropped off by candidates for public office with the local party committees and distributed to committee members and to the individual supporters of particular candidates. The signs are placed in the yards of committee members, campaign supporters, and along the rights-of-way of public streets and thoroughfares.

  Each defendant municipality has political-sign ordinances that attempt to restrict different aspects of placing political signs within the municipality. We address the particular ordinances in each specific municipality as follows. Roseto Borough

  The Borough of Roseto is a bedroom community of approximately 1400 residents, just over a square mile in size, located north of the Borough of Bangor, along Blue Mountain, in what is referred as the slate-belt region of Northampton County, Pennsylvania.

  Section 185-34 of the Roseto Code restricts the use of political signs by establishing a three-week pre-election time restriction for displaying political signs, and a ten-day post-election deadline for removal of political signs. In addition, the ordinance limits the size of any political sign to a maximum of six square feet. An individual may place only one sign per candidate on his or her property. There is a fee for displaying signs which exceed the limitations of the ordinance, but that fee is waived for political signs. No permit is required to post a political sign.

  Roseto Borough has never enforced its political sign ordinance except where the placement of a particular sign has created a safety hazard. However, Roseto Borough has not specifically agreed to ...


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