Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 15, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in CA Dismisses Free Speech and Equal Protection Challenges to City’s Restrictions on Off-Site Commercial Billboards

On June 10, 2015, plaintiffs California Outdoor Equity Partners, LLC, AMG Outdoor Advertising, and J. Keith Stephens filed suit against the defendant, City of Los Angeles alleging that the City’s restrictions on off-site commercial billboards, Section 14.4.4.B.11 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code (“LAMC”), violated plaintiffs’ free speech and equal protection rights. Plaintiffs alleged that they were licensed by the State of California to lease to the public “off-premises” or “offsite” outdoor advertising signs. The City of Los Angeles filed a motion to dismiss.

In its Free Speech Claims, the plaintiffs challenged the ordinance’s: distinction between offsite and onsite content; its distinctions between “certain speakers” (those who have “grandfathered” rights, including CBS Outdoor (“CBS”) and Clear Channel Outdoor (“CCO”)), the operators of onsite signs and the operators of noncommercial signs, and street banners) and between certain types of signs; and its allowance for many exceptions to the ordinance’s ban. This argument was rejected, however, because the distinction between offsite and onsite signs has been repeatedly upheld as content-neutral and valid. Moreover, the City was entitled to treat signs permitted before the offsite and supergraphic sign bans differently than other signs because preserving legally nonconforming billboards still furthered the City’s significant interest in reducing blight and increasing traffic safety. Finally, the court rejected the notion that a higher degree of protection existed for commercial speech under the California Constitution. Accordingly, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ Free Speech claims.

As to the Equal Protection claims, plaintiffs alleged that the City had selectively granted CBS and CCO the right to operate offsite commercial billboards, while denying that right to Plaintiffs. However, Plaintiffs, as would-be new billboard operators who do not own grandfathered pre-ban billboards, were not found to be similarly situated to existing operators who had grandfathered pre-ban billboards (such as the two companies actually named in the complaint, CBS and Clear Channel). As a result, these claims were likewise dismissed.

California Outdoor Equity Partners, LLC v City of Los Angeles, 2015 WL 7259731 (CD CA. 11/16/2015)

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