Supreme Court Won’t Hear Metrolights Appeal: Will Those Illegal Billboards Now Come Down?

Fuel Outdoor 6

Fuel Outdoor (Metrolights) Billboards in Venice

The legal battle over the hundreds of movie poster-style billboards put up in L.A. without permits the past five years apparently reached an end today, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review an appellate court decision that the city’s off-site sign ban can be used to prohibit  the company’s signs.

The lawsuit challenging the city’s ban was originally filed in 2004 by a New York company called Metrolights, after the city cited a large number of the lighted street-level signs for violating the 2002 off-site sign ban.  The lawsuit’s central claim—that the ban was unconstitutional because the city allowed similar signs on public property in bus shelters and other items of “street furniture”—got a favorable ruling from a U.S. District Court judge, but that ruling was overturned early this year by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

What will happen to the signs, now owned by another New York company called Fuel Outdoor? One might argue that the company “rolled the dice” in putting up signs without obtaining any required permits, hoping to win the right in court to keep them, but that roll has ultimately proved a  loser.  In the meantime, the company has reaped untold amounts of revenue from advertisers.

So wouldn’t a justifiable result be the removal of all the illegal signs and disgorgement of a significant amount of that revenue the company bet it could  make and put in the bank?

Fuel Outdoor is also in the business of putting up supergraphic signs, although it isn’t known how many of those signs actually exist, or where they are located.   Late last year, the company filed a so-called “copycat” lawsuit against the city, invoking the same grounds as the World Wide Rush case now awaiting a ruling from the 9th Circuit.  Oral arguments in that case were heard just last week.

Dennis Hathaway

One Response to “Supreme Court Won’t Hear Metrolights Appeal: Will Those Illegal Billboards Now Come Down?”

  1. Babs says:

    It is high time that all those signs come down. They are located in so many different spots… on scenic roadways, along neighborhood streets with community plans that have barred off-site ads even before the citywide ban took effect. They are a visual nightmare cluttering our streetscapes and pose potential hazards as well. Since they were placed without electrical and building permits, who is to say that they have been safely installed? Would they be safe if, for example, a car in the rain ran into one at a corner gas station? Where is the power flowing from? Could it cause a fire at the gas station? If a homeowner or apartment owner had done such work we would have been ordered to remove it immediately. It is time for the City to say, ‘take ’em down, take ’em all down!’

    This company has played the sue and delay game long enough and the people of Los Angeles should tell them and their advertisers that we don’t want their signs littering our city anymore. If the sign company won’t listen, maybe the advertisers will! And, it they don’t act in a reasonably established number of DAYS (not years), it is time for the city to establish a very, very expensive removal fee and fine to accompany it.

    p.s. I hope the City will be able to recoup all of the legal fees that have been spent defending the early citations and this case since it began! The City needs the money and, after all, the company has received what one could easily call “ill gotten gains” for quite a long time. Maybe they can recycle some of their parts into solar panels or something more useful….

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