Latest high-stakes offense: lost-dog posters in D.C.?

It’s unclear whether the District of Columbia’s $300 penalty for affixing signs in public places is per offending sign or per offending course of conduct, which means that when Roger Horowitz and friends put up thousands of fliers about his lost dog Ollie, he might have been flirting with a very substantial liability; according to Horowitz, the sum of $750,000 came up in a conversation with a police officer. [NBC Washington] For more examples of how cumulative statutory damages or fines for individually paltry offenses can multiply into seemingly disproportionate outcomes, see also junk-fax and TCPA class actions.


  • There was a recent story on Volokh Conspiracy of a woman with only $9k annual income was fined $11k by NYC for putting up 149 flyers advertising babysitting services which were the source of her income. They got to an $11K fine by charging each flyer as a separate count. Fortunately a court overturned the fine as excessive.

  • “Thousands” of flyers for a lost dog seems a bit excessive.

    I don’t have a problem with posted signs in my town, but for the fact that no one ever removes their signs once their relevance has passed. Once the yard sale, or musical event date has passed, all signs need to come down.

    That there were so many signs, and it is unlikely that this fellow had a map detailing the location of each, implied that he had no intention of removing them all even if his dog were found the very next day. Littering, physically, and emotionally all over town.

    Wrist slap for signs at first, but if faded and torn signs are still up a month later, then levy the whole fine for each sign.

  • Gasman, as a test, let’s apply your theory to those running for political office first. It’s unlikely the campaign has “a map detailing the location of each, implied that he had no intention of removing them all even if his dog {wins} the very next day. Littering, physically, and emotionally all over town.”

    If its good enough for the politicians over, say, two election cycles, we’ll expand it to the rest of the populace.

    *I would support mandatory date stamp of the flyers/signs, for the purpose of ascertaining how long they had been up – with the fine to be levied if the sign remains up some reasonable period (1 month for lost items, 3 mo for political campaigns?) after the date appearing on the flyer, said fine to be tripled in the event that a flyer is found posted prior to its “date stamp”. Date stamp should be clearly spelled out as to height, color, and representative fonts, but not requiring a trip to city hall to obtain – a person at home with a printer should be able to produce a mark that satisfies the statute.

  • Mr. CarLitGuy: although political signs are generally permitted during the election season, in fact some municipalities have laws which require the candidate (successful or unsuccessful) to take down and remove the signs after the election. I know that because I worked for one such municipality.
    Each campaign, unless it is willing to be fined, does in fact keep track of how many signs it placed and where they are placed. The committeemen who place the signs are responsible for their signs.
    The signs are removed by campaign volunteers after the election. Signs put up by people on their own property, such as a front yard, are different matter of course.

    • Florida as a state requires all electioneering signs to come down within 30 days of the election. (If the election is a primary election and the candidate wins, the candidate may keep the signs up until after the general election.)

      Florida also allows local governments to make stricter rules on electioneering signs. Here in my county, to even put up a sign the candidate must post a bond with the clerk. That bond is drawn against if the signs are not down within three days after an election when the police go around taking the signs down, throwing them in the trunks of their cars. For each sign the candidate did not remove, he loses money off his bond.

      That being said, there is another issue to putting signs up for lost animals, garage sales, etc and that is the damage to the poles to which the signs are attached. If you are taping the signs to the poles, the damage is not too bad. But many people staple or nail signs to wooden poles which shorten the lifespan of those poles.

  • Sounds like a very reasonable and responsible civic regulation, Mike. Perhaps it will catch on in the states where I have resided.

  • I agree that it seems like a reasonable regulation. Because most of the time, once the dog is found, the person rarely takes down the