Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 21, 2010

8th Circuit Court of Appeals Finds St. Paul, MN Ban on Billboard “Extensions” Lacked Rational Basis

Clear Channel was engaged in the business of outdoor advertising, and owned and maintained 390 billboards, with 460 sign faces, within the City of St. Paul.  The company regularly used temporary billboard extensions (part of a graphic or word that protruded beyond the normal rectangular outline of a billboard) to give its customers greater creative freedom and to enhance the visual impact of messages displayed on its billboards. In 2000, the City Council adopted a prohibition on new billboards, but deemed existing signs to be legal nonconforming uses.  The size of billboard extensions and the length of time for which they were permitted were regulated under the City Code, § 64.301(g), and Clear Channel continued to use temporary billboard extensions.  In early 2005, the City’s planning commission began to discuss charging a permit fee for each billboard extension, or a total ban. The planning commission’s final recommendation to the City Council read: “Billboard extensions should continue to be permitted with the addition of a permit and fee as originally recommended.” A year later, the council proposed a ban on the extensions. This amendment, § 64.301(a), was passed after a brief discussion, none of which concerned its merits or drawbacks, and went into effect on May 3, 2006.  After Clear Channel was instructed to remove its billboard extensions, it sued, claiming that the ordinance represented an unconstitutional and unreasonable use of police power, and violated Clear Channel’s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the laws. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted Clear Channel’s partial motion for summary judgment and denied the City’s motion, finding that the City Council’s enactment of the ordinance was arbitrary and capricious.  Applying the test in Honn v. City of Coon Rapids, 313 N.W.2d 409 (Minn. 1981) (whether there was a rational basis for the municipal body’s legislative decision), it held that “Code § 64.301(a) [was] unenforceable as a matter of law because the record [was] void of any articulated reasons by the City for its enactment of the ordinance.” The court did not reach Clear Channel’s constitutional claims under the second count.

The primary dispute on appeal concerned whether the district court used the correct legal standard in its analysis of Code § 64.301(a).  The City argued that the appropriate approach was the rule that “[l]egislative bodies generally are not required to articulate reasons for enacting a statute or ordinance,” and that “[t]he rational basis test merely requires the challenged legislation to be supported by any set of facts either known or which could reasonably be assumed.” The Eighth Circuit disagreed, ruling that the district court correctly applied Minnesota law in holding

that Code § 64.301(a) was unenforceable and that Honn would be applied to the billboard ordinance. “The City’s difficulty in this case is not that the record of what happened in the City Council proceedings is unclear or incomplete, but that the Council simply failed to articulate any rational basis for its action.” Remand was unjustified; to refuse remand would retain the status quo and allow the City to begin its legislative process anew.  

 Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. St. Paul, No. 09-2670, 2010 WL 3325617 (8th Cir. 8/25/2010) 

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/10/08/092670P.pdf


Responses

  1. Wonder if this will cause a decent upswing for ClearChannel…


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