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Fighting Scottsdale’s Differential Treatment of Advertising Signs

Shearer v. City of Scottsdale

Case Status

Date Filed

October 5, 2016

Last Step

Court stopped Scottsdale from enforcing its sign code against Plaintiffs and allowed Plaintiffs to continue to use their signs.

Next Step

Await revision to Scottsdale’s sign code.

Case Overview


For years, Aaron Shearer has successfully run farmers markets, where people looking for fresh, organic produce can meet and buy from local farmers. She’s learned by experience that farmers markets work best when they’re well-advertised—particularly by signs placed on sidewalks in the area. By the 2013-14 season, Aaron was running two profitable markets that brought her and her participating farmers good incomes. That was before officials with the City of Scottsdale issued her an order forcing her to stop posting the signs that directed potential customers to the markets. Without the signs, attendance plummeted, and Aaron was forced to close one of them down entirely. City fathers denied her request to post signs directing customers to her other market—she could only post four signs at locations they selected. Although Aaron appealed that decision, the city’s order soon forced her to close the second market as well. All of this despite the fact that other Scottsdale businesses are given greater latitude to post signs off-premises, and state law almost entirely bars cities from prohibiting signs advertising political candidates. In other words, Scottsdale’s sign restrictions allow some signs without any permit, require other signs to get a permit first, and totally prohibits still other signs. This differential treatment is unconstitutional. In its 2015 ruling, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the U.S. Supreme Court held that cities cannot impose different rules on signs based on the messages they convey. Scottsdale’s ordinance breaks this rule because the only way the city can know which rules apply is to classify the signs based on message—exactly what the Reed case forbids.

Case Logistics

The plaintiff in this case is Aaron Shearer. The defendants are the Board of Adjustment and the City of Scottsdale. The case was filed in the Arizona Superior Court in Maricopa County on October 5, 2016.

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