Appellate Court Rules Against Bowden


Story from staff reports. File photo by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, NC – In August of 2008, David Bowden painted the front of his house on Maynard Avenue with bright orange letters proclaiming the message “Screwed by The Town of Cary.” Today, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Cary, overturning a lower court ruling that had been in favor of Mr. Bowden.

Reasonable Restrictions

The Appellate Court found that Town of Cary had placed reasonable restrictions on signs that could be applied in the Bowden case.

From the Fourth Circuit Ruling:

In this case, the Town has supplied definitions of public art and holiday decorations, and if they lack the clarity Bowden would insist on, it is because the concepts do not lend themselves to easy definition. Because laws are “condemned to the use of words, we can never expect mathematical certainty from our language.”

Nevertheless, the vagueness doctrine does not prevent governments from regulating vague concepts—it only requires that they provide some guidance for citizens to understand the reach of a law’s application.

The Town has done its best to do just that through definitions “set out in terms that the ordinary person exercising ordinary common sense can sufficiently understand and comply with.”

Defies Common Sense

The Court went on to say:

It defies common sense to argue—as Bowden does—that it is unclear under the Sign Ordinance whether the sign “Screwed by the Town of Cary” qualifies as “public art” or “holiday decorations.” Bowden cannot reasonably contend that his sign was “intended to beautify” or was an “observance” of a holiday.

Overturns Award of Attorney Fees

Mr. Bowden passed away on June 1, 2011. But the case has been pursued by his heirs. A lower court ruling had required Town of Cary to pay Mr. Bowden’s attorney fees. Today’s ruling overturns the award of attorney fees to the estate of Mr. Bowden.

Mr. Bowden’s estate may now choose to petition the United States Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court only accepts a small number of cases for review.

For now, it looks like the “Screwed By” saga may be at an end.

4 replies
  1. L.C.
    L.C. says:

    This was a ridiculous case. It was a shame that the Town of Cary was forced to spend any time or money on it. I’m all for free speech, but there is a limit. I used to think positively about the ACLU, but after it took up this case, my feelings about the organization have changed. They should be using their resources to take up real free speech causes — not ones that involve a looney with an ax to grind. It was later reported that the drainage problems Mr. Bowden was experiencing was due to a broken sub-pump that he failed to fix, not from construction by the Town of Cary.

  2. Lindsey Chester
    Lindsey Chester says:

    Robert I soooo agree with you. And I am glad that the town prevailed as this was going to have implications far into the future. Who’s to say folks couldn’t just about write anything on their homes and to heck with their neighbors> Would have set a really bad precedent.

    Hope this is the end of the whole episode as it also prevented the town from moving forward on any loosening of our current sign rules for businesses as proposed by staff more than 3 years ago!

  3. Robert Campbell
    Robert Campbell says:

    FINALLY! I hope….
    This saga has gone on for too long and for all the wrong reasons. Glad to hear this result and hopefully, this is the end of it.

Comments are closed.