Korwin v. Cotton (Bus Shelter Ads case)

Posted on May 11, 2011 | Type: Case
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When the Arizona Legislature changed the law to allow individuals to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, weapons expert Alan Korwin saw a business opportunity helping people who wanted to safely exercise that right. He worked with training instructors and other organizations to create TrainMeAz.com, a website connecting weapons owners to training services. The website is funded through sponsorships and advertising.

TrainMeAz launched an advertising campaign, including roadside billboards, in mid-2010 to attract customers to the website. Mr. Korwin also signed a contract with CBS Outdoors to place advertisements on 50 city-owned bus shelters, which CBS Outdoors manages.

CBS Outdoors then informed Mr. Korwin that the City of Phoenix objected to his ad. In a telephone conference call, city officials told Mr. Korwin the posters didn’t comply with a written requirement that bus shelter advertising only be used for speech that “proposes a commercial transaction.” However, city officials were unable to provide Mr. Korwin with any standards that would explain what kind of messages would meet that requirement.

Meanwhile, CBS Outdoors removed the posters at the city’s direction before the expiration of TrainMeAz’s contract.

Quick Status >>     

     Last step: Oral argument in the Court of Appeals
     Next step: Court of Appeals to issue decision


Key Issues

The right to free speech is a fundamental freedom protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted governments leeway in regulating commercial speech and product advertising on public property, but they must adopt consistent standards that provide potential advertisers fair notice about when their messages might be restricted, and such standards can’t be applied arbitrarily.

The Arizona Constitution provides an independent right of free speech in Article 2, Section 6: “Every person may freely speak, write, and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.” This lawsuit also seeks to enforce the state’s authority to protect liberty and restrict government censorship beyond what is required by the U.S. Constitution.

The Goldwater Institute is asking a judge to strike down the City of Phoenix Transit Advertising Standards under the free speech, due process, and equal protection of the Arizona and U.S. constitutions. Phoenix should be required to develop constitutional standards that make clear beforehand what kind of advertising will be approved, so all businesses are treated fairly and are not subject to arbitrary enforcement by city officials. Moreover, the TrainMeAz poster, because it is commercial, should be deemed in compliance with the existing standards and allowed to appear on City of Phoenix bus shelters.


Plaintiffs' Statement of Facts in Support of Summary Judgment (5/1/2012)
Statement of Facts Exhibits (5/1/2012)
Plaintiffs' Response to Defendants' Statement of Facts (5/1/2012)
Plaintiffs' Combined Motion for Summary Judgment (5/1/2012)
Complaint (5/11/2011)
Plaintiffs’ Reply in Further Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (6/19/2012)
Plaintiffs’ Reply Statement of Facts (6/19/2012)
Plaintiffs’ Response to Defendants’ Additional Facts (6/19/2012)
Trial Court Decision (10/15/12)
Opening Brief (2/26/13)
Appendix in Support of Opening Brief (2/26/13)
Amicus Brief by the American Civil Liberties Union (4/15/13)
Appellants' Reply Brief (5/21/13)
Court Opinion (5/8/2014)


May 11, 2011: Complaint filed in Maricopa County Superior Court. Judge Mark Brain assigned to the case.
July 21, 2011: Amended Complaint filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.
August 23, 2012: Oral argument heard in front of Judge Mark H. Brain, Maricopa Superior Court.
October 15, 2012: Judge rules in favor of City
November 21, 2012: Goldwater Institute appeals ruling
December 3, 2013: Oral argument heard in Court of Appeals

Media Coverage

Goldwater Institute Files Lawsuit to Stop Arbitrary Censorship of Gun Ads

Legal Team

Clint Bolick is the Goldwater Institute’s litigation director. He has extensive success before trial judges and appellate courts. He has won two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was named as a Lawyer of the Year in 2003 by American Lawyer magazine.

Christina Sandefur recently won a major victory for taxpayers when the court of appeals held that the government cannot spend bond money on unapproved purposes.  She worked to advance liberty as a law clerk at the Pacific Legal Foundation in California and a research intern and contributor at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy before joining the Goldwater Institute as an attorney in 2010. Christina earned her law degree from Michigan State University College of Law, where she served as notes editor of the law review and president of the campus Federalist Society.

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