Supreme Court Rules City Doesn’t Have to Pay for Billboard Ban

By August 11, 2000News

An East Lansing ordinance banning rooftop billboards does not qualify as a taking and the city does not owe compensation to the affected business, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The long-running case, Adams Outdoor Advertising v. City of East Lansing (docket No. 113674), has already appeared before the high court – where justices held that the city had the legal authority to prohibit freestanding and rooftop billboards and returned the case to the Ingham County Circuit Court to determine whether the law resulted in an uncompensated taking. Wednesday’s decision dealt solely with whether the law’s impact on rooftop billboards meant there should be compensation to the business.

In overturning the trial court and Court of Appeals, a unanimous Supreme Court held that the billboard leases, which predated the 1975 ordinance, did not include an absolute right to display signs on the rooftops. Justice Clifford Taylor, in an opinion joined by Justices Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markman and Robert Young Jr., wrote that the law is not a taking under a three-part test.

First, the court already has ruled that the ordinance is legal and part of reasonable police power regulation. Second and third, the economic effect of the law is minimal because the rooftop is only a small portion of the property.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Marilyn Kelly, joined by Justice Michael Cavanagh, said she agreed with the ruling but disagreed with the premise of basing it on the rights of the lessor, which she said is not before the court.

“I realize that the economic effect on the plaintiff in this case is substantial because defendant’s ordinance precludes plaintiff from using its leaseholds,” Ms. Kelly wrote. “I balance that fact against the absence of any investment-backed expectation and the recognized social benefit of improving safety and aesthetics.”

In another separate concurring, and somewhat reluctantly so, opinion, Chief Justice Elizabeth Weaver wrote that she is “concerned this court has failed to give due consideration to the private property interests related to billboard ownership and leases,” but that eliminating the billboards “would not change the nature of the underlying governmental action.”