Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 17, 2018

Fed. Dist. Court in CA Finds Claims in Billboard Case were Barred by Res Judicata

This post was authored by Matthew-Loeser, Esq.

Plaintiffs Citizens for Free Speech, LLC and Michael Shaw brought an action against the County of Alameda and County-related defendants, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to challenge Defendants’ efforts to enforce certain local zoning ordinances with respect to three billboards that Shaw has allowed Citizens to display on his property. The First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), the operative pleading before the Court, alleged that the County’s enforcement efforts violated Plaintiffs’ right to free speech, due process and equal protection. The pleadings also alleged that the County wass foreclosed from enforcing its ordinances as a result of the judgment entered by District Judge Charles Breyer in Plaintiffs’ prior lawsuit against the County.

The Court found that all of the elements for Younger abstention were clear from the pleadings. The FAC specifically alleged that the County’s administrative abatement proceedings are ongoing. The abatement proceedings implicated important state interests. The Court noted that it is well settled that a local entity’s police power includes the authority to adopt and enforce zoning ordinances. It found no impediment to Plaintiffs’ ability to raise their constitutional issue in the context of the state proceeding, and the record demonstrated that the Plaintiffs were attempting to utilize the action to interfere with a state proceeding. Plaintiffs’ claims, all of which seek to enjoin the administrative abatement proceedings were dismissed.

The court further noted that even if the claims weren’t dismissed under Younger, they would have nevertheless been barred by res judicata. In Citizens for Free Speech, LLC v. Cty. of Alameda, 114 F. Supp. 3d 952, 966, the court found that the zoning Ordinance is content-neutral, and the same procedural requirements do not apply to content-neutral permit schemes. Likewise, the Plaintiffs do not dispute that they fully litigated both their freedom of speech and equal protection claims to judgment in the prior action.

Citizens for Free Speech, LLC v County of Alameda, 2018 WL 427220 (ND CA 9/4/2018)

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