Legal Wars: Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor Sue to Block Action Against Digital Billboards, Accuse City of Unlawful Harassment

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Home of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles

[ Update:  U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins has denied the request by Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor for a temporary restraining order against the city. ]

Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to bar the city from taking any action against their digital billboards.  The lawsuit was filed less than 48 hours before a state court judge threw out the 2006 lawsuit settlement with the city that allowed the billboard companies to convert 840 of the their conventional billboards to electronic, with their brilliantly-lighted, rapidly changing ads that have angered residents of such widespread neighborhoods as Venice, Westwood, Hollywood and Silverlake.

Before the  settlement brokered by former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo was unanimously approved by the City Council in September, 2006, the digital billboard conversions were barred by a 2002 off-site sign ban, which also prohibited modifications to existing signs.  The federal court lawsuit filed by Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor last week claims that this prohibition was invalidated by a federal judge’s ruling last year that the 2002 ban was unconstitutional due to the exceptions made for sign districts, specific plans, and development agreements.

While L.A. Circuit Court Judge Terry Green ruled that the 2006 lawsuit settlement was invalid, he took under advisement the question of the permits the city has issued thus far for 101 digital billboard conversions.  Summit Media, a Santa Monica-based billboard company that sued to invalidate the settlement, argued that all those permits should also be invalidated.  The attorney for Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor countered that members of the public could file administrative appeals to the permits.

The new federal court lawsuit asserts that the complaints about digital billboards have come from “a handful of neighborhood activists” and that the city has responded with a “campaign of harassment” that has caused the billboard companies to fear criminal prosecution and other penalties.

The city has appealed the ruling by U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins that  the 2002 sign ban was unconstitutional.  Last month,  Judge Collins rejected a legal challenge to a subsequent ban passed by the city council this past August, saying that it passed constitutional muster because it suspended the exceptions in the 2002 ban.

Ironically, perhaps, the city was the principal defendant in the lawsuit brought by Summit Media last year challenging the 2006 settlement, and Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor joined that lawsuit in the city’s defense.

Dennis Hathaway

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