US Supreme Court Refuses to Review Los Angeles Billboard Case

The U.S. Supreme Court refused today to review an appellate court decision that challenged the city's regulation of hundreds of movie poster-style billboards put up in L.A. without permits.

The original federal lawsuit challenging the city's ban was filed in 2004 by Metrolights (now owned by Fuel Outdoor) after the city began citing hundreds of "movie poster"-style signs for violating the 2002 billboard ban.

Metro Lights argued that it was unfair that the city could make money off its 3,300 street furniture advertising program, tens of thousands of street banners and countless wall signs, murals and super graphics on public property but forbid similar advertising on private property by a private firm.

In 2006, a district judge agreed, but that ruling was overturned early this year by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Metro Lights was represented in court by Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe who is nationally recognized as one of the foremost liberal constitutional law scholars and Supreme Court practitioners).

The case dates to 2001, six months before City Hall passed a blanket ban on all new billboards, when the city entered into a contract with CBS Decaux, which gave CBS a lucrative contract to sell and display miniature billboard-style advertising on bus shelters and kiosks. In return, the city would get $150 million over the 20-year-term of the agreement.

Instead, the contract opened up a Pandora's box of litigation. It didn't take long before a private firm with no such deal with City Hall, Metro Lights, began putting up "movie poster"-style signs that look like the city's own "street furniture" small billboards.

In 2003, the city began citing the company for illegally erecting billboards.

What will happen to the signs? Who knows. Late last year, Fuel Outdoor, which is also in the supergraphics business, filed an almost identical lawsuit against the city, invoking the same grounds as the World Wide Rush case now awaiting a ruling from the 9th Circuit. World Wide Rush argued that it had a right to erect new signs or supergraphics because it requested permits before a temporary ban on new signs was enacted in December 2008.


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