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ACLU files suit against Cary for violating rights of homeowner

Posted November 19, 2009

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— The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Town of Cary Thursday challenging the town’s assessment of fines against a Cary homeowner who spray-painted a protest on the front of his home.

The town issued a notice against David Bowden last week, noting that his message – with words that some might find offensive – violates size and color limits set by the town’s sign ordinance.

Bowden hired someone to paint the sign on his home after he claimed a road-widening project left his once-arboreal yard, at 305 SW Maynard Road, void of trees and with a steep slope that funnels rain water into his home.

"The town knows about it and nothing has been done about it at all," Bowden said.

David Bowden house ACLU files suit against Cary

Town staff first visited Bowden ask him to change the sign in July.. The violation, which allows for fines for each day the message remains on his house, is scheduled to start Friday. Bowden will be fined $100 for the first day. The fines will increase each additional day.

In the lawsuit filed in the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the ACLU alleges that the town’s threats violate Bowden’s right to free speech and to petition his government under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and similar provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the town’s sign ordinance unconstitutional and to issue a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the Town.

“In order to save itself from embarrassment, the town is attempting to silence Mr. Bowden from engaging in core political speech directed at the very governmental authorities who are seeking to suppress that speech,” ACLU-NCLF Cooperating Attorney Mark Sigmon said in a release. “Enforcement of the Town’s sign ordinance under these circumstances is a clear violation of the First Amendment.”

“Given that we’ve been in contact with the ACLU off and on for the last several months, we’re disappointed in the choice they’ve made today but look forward to a court’s review of our community’s standards," said Susan Moran, spokeswoman for the Town of Cary.

Bowden’s complaints are not news to town leaders. Assistant Town Manager Mike Bajorek said the town has attempted to negotiate with Bowden, but has been unable to reach a satisfactory solution.

"We have gone to him and said, 'We have a design that would help resolve (the drainage issue),'" Bajorek said last week. "He said, 'No. Stay off my property. I want you to buy my house.'"

Bowden said he will never give up, even if it means losing his home.

“If I have to...I will let the mortgage company foreclose on it,” Bowden said.

209 Comments

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  • thought Nov 20, 2009

    And for those of you so hard core, the word "screwed" IS a bad word. Its a synonym for the past-tense 'F' Word and is NOT appropriate in public on a sign. As I said before, the ACLU doesn't honestly believe they can win. They simply need more donations during this bad financial time. So they're willing to take on any case to stir up more donations, especially from some of the people posting foolish comments on this article

    ok- so we can't screw the wood together because it is a bad word? we must nail it---- oooohhh wait that also has a bad meaning- as does gay- not what it was originally meant for - or stoned- or a whole bunch of other words- if you don't teach your kid that meanings do change.... you are in for a long road with the child- and parents liek that are clueless as to what their kids actually do.

  • thought Nov 20, 2009

    so let me see if I have this - parents are upset by the wording? Would these be the same people who let their kids paly violent video games and watch violent movies and listen to the garbage on the radio because they do not paying attention to their kids because they are self centered? Seriously, I do not agree with all this- but if you didn't put so much spotlight on it yourself, your kids would not really have noticed. Do your kids notice every single thing they see when you are in the car? I didn't think so - you pointed it out to them.

  • NC Reader Nov 20, 2009

    nufsaid -- You must be a very young adult! The ACLU is committed to free speech -- no matter which side of the political spectrum it comes from. They are seen as a left-wing organization, but they also represent right-wingers in free speech cases. Sometimes I agree with the groups they represent, sometimes not. There are very few people who are "liberal" or "conservative" on every single issue. Most of us are "liberal" on some issues, "conservative" on some, and moderate on most. The ACLE just happens to be "free speech" on everything.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Nov 20, 2009

    I'm just waiting for a local attorney to take on a case from ALL of the neighbors of this man. A lawsuit suing this man for ALL damages in loss of home values from ALL of his neighbors. Then see how fast this man paints his home and shuts his mouth. This man is wrong, wrong, wrong. No exceptions. The Town is within its right to ask him to remove the sign. The Town has been removing Watermelon stand signs and yard sale signs for many, many years. If that is a nuisance, then his house painted sign is DEFINITELY a nuisance.

    And for those of you so hard core, the word "screwed" IS a bad word. Its a synonym for the past-tense 'F' Word and is NOT appropriate in public on a sign. As I said before, the ACLU doesn't honestly believe they can win. They simply need more donations during this bad financial time. So they're willing to take on any case to stir up more donations, especially from some of the people posting foolish comments on this article.

  • nufsaid Nov 20, 2009

    For the first time in my adult life I can agree with the ACLU.

  • ncmedic201 Nov 20, 2009

    What is "IT"? You are not actually saying there has only been ONE case regarding sign ordinances on noncommercial property, are you?

  • lizard Nov 20, 2009

    ncmedic201 -

    There's no constitutional right for what he is saying and why. It is not protected free speech.

  • lizard Nov 20, 2009

    ncmedic201 -

    I read it. IT doesn't pertain to this case.

  • lizard Nov 20, 2009

    miketroll3572 -

    You made my point, buddy. Apparently some "political" speech is allowed and some is not. You know what, it gets worse from here on out.

  • ncmedic201 Nov 20, 2009

    No, its not ok for states to supercede our CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS! And yes, there are plenty of cases. Have you even attempted to research this? Just because a Town makes an ordinance does not make it constitutional. These ordinances are being rewritten all over the country because of the rulings.

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