Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 28, 2019

IN Appeals Court Holds Owner Did Not Have Statutory Vested Rights in Its Digital Billboard

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Worth Outdoor, LLC, altered an existing billboard in 2015 by replacing a static sign with a digital display. Since that time, the relevant ordinances contained in the Revised City-County Code had been amended, and the billboard did not comply with the amended ordinances. Worth argued that its sign should be grandfathered in as a legally established nonconforming use. This case arose when the Metropolitan Development Commission (“MDC”) brought action against Worth, claiming it had violated portions of city-county ordinance by operating an unpermitted digital billboard and failing to obtain an improvement location permit (“ILP”) before altering the billboard from static to digital. The Superior Court, granted Worth’s motion for summary judgment, and the Commission appealed.

The court first noted that reasonable people could dispute whether the process of converting a billboard from a static display to a digital sign was a new sign being erected or an old sign being altered. However, regardless of this dispute, former Section 730-300(b)(1) – which was in effect prior to Worth beginning the subject conversion – plainly required that the owner apply for, and receive, an ILP. Here, there was no evidence in the record that Worth ever applied for an ILP at the time it sought permission for, and completed, the installation of the new billboard. As such, this process did not comply with the ordinances in place at the time and could not be considered a legally established nonconforming use. Moreover, because the digital billboard never lawfully existed and its permit application process was incomplete, Worth could not make a successful claim that it has vested rights in that billboard. For the aforementioned reasons, the judgment of the trial court was reversed and remanded for trial.

Metropolitan Development Commission v. Worth Outdoor, LLC, 130 N.E.3d 1202 (IN App. 2019)


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