On July 24, 2018, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed a superior court decision concluding that the City of Milford's zoning enforcement officer lack authority to regulate certain signs on a homeowner's property under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 8-2 in Kutcha v. Arisian, 329 Conn. 530 (2018), docket no. SC19730.
Factual Background: The property owner erected three signs on her residential property pertaining to remodelers with whom she had contracted to conduct certain home improvements. The signs all expressed her dissatisfaction with the remodelers, one reading: “I Do Not Recommend BAYBROOK REMODELERS,” and the other two captioned: “BAYBROOK REMODELERS' TOTAL LAWSUITS” above bar graphs purportedly displaying lawsuits in which the remodelers' had been a party. The city issued an order notifying the property owner that these signs violated the zoning regulations limiting the height, size, and number of signs per street line and ordering her to remove them. When the owner refused, the City instituted an enforcement action pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 8-12 to gain compliance.
Court's Analysis: The trial court concluded, and the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed, that the city lacked authority to regulate the defendant's signs under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 8-2 because the signs were not “advertising signs.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 8-2, which provides the authority to towns to regulate signs, states, “The zoning commission of each city, town or borough is authorized to regulate, within the limits of such municipality, … the height, size and location of advertising signs and billboards….” The Supreme Court concluded that the definition of advertising signs under the statute is “any form of public announcement intending to aid directly or indirectly in the sale of goods and services, in the promulgation of a doctrine or idea, in securing attendance, or the like.” However, the crux of the Court's rationale was that the term advertising, as that term was defined when the statute was enacted in 1931, means that the proponent of the sign would gain a benefit, typically in the sale of goods or services. The Court distinguished a feeling of personal satisfaction the property owner may gain if her signs succeeded in deterring others from hiring the remodelers. The Court also rejected the city's argument that the state legislature has acquiesced to such regulation, because many municipalities also regulate signs in a similar manner, and have done so for years.
Conclusion: This decision reiterates that municipal authority under Conn. Gen. Stat. Stat. § 8-2 will be narrowly construed by the courts. In addition, a review of your municipality's current sign regulations and enforcement actions is recommended for conformance with the Court's decision.