Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Page 4


U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge to L.A. Billboard Ban


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday declined to take up a constitutional challenge to a Los Angeles ordinance curbing the use of commercial billboards within the city.

Without comment, the justices denied certiorari to a local billboard company asking them to review a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Holding that the city could prohibit off-site advertising while simultaneously contracting with a private party to permit sale of such advertising at city-owned transit stops without running afoul of the First Amendment, the Ninth Circuit panel reversed a lower court decision in January.

U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess of the Central District of California had granted Metro Lights LLC’s motion for partial summary judgment, but the Ninth Circuit overturned the ruling and ordered dismissal of the claim.

In December 2001, the city entered into a contract with Viacom Decaux LLC, which later became CBS-Decaux LLC, under which CBS could install public facilities at city-owned transit stops in exchange for exclusive advertising rights on those facilities.

Five months later, due to the city’s concern with aesthetics and traffic safety, the city enacted an ordinance generally banning “off-site advertising,” which included common billboards and glass-encased posters affixed to buildings, but exempted “work located primarily in a public way,” such as the city’s estimated 18,500 public transit shelters and facilities.

The city subsequently issued numerous citations to Metro Lights, which owned and operated several outdoor signs within the city, for violating the ordinance by installing new off-site advertising signs.

Metro Lights alleged the ordinance violated the First Amendment and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance as to 20 specified signs. In ruling for the company, Feess noted that the city gave a competitor of Metro Lights the exclusive right to post commercial signs on city-owned transit shelters, while denying Metro Lights and other companies the right to erect billboards of similar size.

But Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain cited Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego, 453 U.S. 490, which involved a virtually identical San Diego ordinance subjected to a similar constitutional challenge. O’Scannlain concluded that the Los Angeles ordinance was not at odds with the city’s stated purpose in enacting the law.

The ordinance “arrests the uncontrolled proliferation of signage and thereby goes a long way toward cleaning up the clutter, which the City believed to be a worth legislative goal,” the jurist noted.

In enacting the ordinance, O’Scannlain reasoned, the city chose to value one kind of commercial speech over another, and such legislative judgment was entitled to deference.

Also, the ordinance allowed the city to supervise a more concentrated supply of off-site advertising, which plausibly contributed to the city’s stated interests, O’Scannlain wrote.

If San Diego’s complete ban on off-site advertising was sufficiently narrowly tailored to survive a constitutional challenge in Metromedia, O’Scannlain concluded, Los Angeles’ partial ban was sufficiently tailored as well.

Senior David R. Thompson and Judge Richard C. Tallman concurred.

The case is Metro Lights, L.L.C. v. City of Los Angeles, 09-259.


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