City of Philadelphia v. Cohen, 479 A.2d 32, 84 Pa.Cmwlth. 200 (1984)

City of Philadelphia v. Cohen, 479 A.2d 32, 84 Pa.Cmwlth. 200 (Pa.Cmwlth.1984)

IMPORTANT CASE: Noise ordinances not over-breadth or vague especially when applied to regulated businesses. “The criteria employed in evaluating regulatory language for vagueness, embrace ‘flexibility and reasonable breadth’ rather than ‘meticulous specificity’ or ‘mathematical certainty.’ [205]  “[T]he Code defines ‘noise’ as ‘the presence of a sound or sounds of such intensity, duration, frequency or character which annoy, disturb, or cause or to tend to cause adverse psychological and physiological effects on persons.'” [205] Such language does not implicate vagueness especially when applied to businesses because vagueness standards are relaxed in regulated businesses. [206] Also, “the phrase ‘beyond the property boundary’ is not invalid for indefiniteness because it fails to specify the distance from the property boundary from which sound measurements are made.” [207] Petitioner also challenged +3dB standard, which the Court held made the ordinance less susceptible to challenge, not more. [206-207].

DECIBEL NOTE: Petitioner business challenged the ordinance, which in this application limited amplified sound to less than +3dB above ambient sound, by claiming that sound levels might already be so low as to not be objectionable, according to the business, even at +3dB. This claim fundamentally misunderstands decibel scales. [See 203, noting that +3dB is about 50% “louder” (sic) than ambient sound levels, not a little bit “louder” as petitioner implies]. Petitioner never explains the source for petitioner’s bald claim that petitioner-business enjoys some unilateral “right” to increase sound levels even by 50% and why that is not infringing on the rights of others.