Mishawaka sign suit decided by appeals court

It’s a case of ‘free speech on wheels’ and it has rolled all the way from Mishawaka to Indiana’s Court of Appeals.

Back in 2009, a small business owner became angry when she was cited for violating the city sign ordinance.

“I have a 5 by 8 foot trailer that I use to haul product and when we started the business, I had owned that and brought that into the company to use to haul product, and the City of Mishawaka didn’t like me parking it in the front of the building,” said Dorothy Miller, owner of AAA Mattress and Furniture off East McKinley.

Because the trailer had printed messages on its sides promoting the business, and because it was parked within view of driver’s on McKinley, AAA was cited for the first time in 2009 and fined $25.

“It’s on my warehouse side, it’s in the front, the warehouse access is in the front so I parked it in the front of the building,” said Miller. “I took it further because I didn’t feel that what the city was doing was correct, and the situation as far as what they were requiring of me, they didn’t give an explanation.”

Miller is quick to point out that the trailer was licensed and insured. “Why would I be told where I could park a vehicle, it's on my property?” Miller went on to say, “Verbally, they told me I could park it in the back of the building, and I wouldn't get any further citations.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently weighed in on the dispute, siding with the City of Mishawaka. The court ruled that the trailer served a “second purpose” as a mobile sign and that when it was parked; it essentially was a sign.

However, the court also ruled that the legal challenge was not frivolous nor without merit, so it reversed a lower court order that the store pay the city’s legal fees.

The suit argued that Mishawaka’s sign ordinance was unconstitutionally vague.

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