Wayne County Circuit Court Upholds Livonia’s Billboard Ban

By January 11, 2002News

On November 28, 2001, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Edward M. Thomas upheld Livonia’s ban on billboards. The Livonia ordinance defined “Billboard” as: “A ground sign advertising a product, event, person, business, or subject not related to the premises on which the sign is located. Off-premise directional signs as permitted in this ordinance shall not be considered as billboards.”

A New York company challenged this billboard ordinance on five well known grounds: 1) Exclusionary zoning, 2) First Amendment Freedom of Speech, 3) Commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, 4) Substantive due process rights under the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions, and 5) Equal protection.

The Wayne County Circuit Court averted a trial by granting “summary disposition” in favor of the City of Livonia. Summary disposition is a procedural way to dismiss a case when there are no factual issues.

Judge Thomas’ 16-page Opinion found no basis to any of the five claimed theories. The Court found there was no First Amendment violation by recognizing there was a distinction between “commercial and non-commercial speech; the former may be regulated in situations where the latter may not be.” The court applied standards derived from the U.S. Supreme Court in finding there was no infringement of First Amendment freedoms. Judge Thomas upheld Livonia’s interest by finding there was a reasonable fit between the intended goal (aesthetics and safety) and the means to reach the goal (a billboard ban). Judge Thomas also found the billboard ban was “content neutral.” In other words, efforts to legislate the type of speech may violate First Amendment freedoms. Courts frown on legislative attempts to draw lines between favored and disfavored businesses or conduct. The outright ban on billboards was aptly found to be content neutral by Judge Thomas.

Since the Court found a reasonable relationship between the goals (aesthetics and safety) and the means (banning billboards), there was no substantive due process violation.

The Court rejected the Exclusionary Zoning argument because there was no “demonstrated need” for billboards.

The interstate and equal protection arguments were dismissed in that the Court found no discriminatory practices.

The Wayne County Circuit Court Opinion has been appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Scenic Michigan will be filing an Amicus Curiae brief.