Amicus Brief

Outdoor Systems, Inc v City of Clawson

Case Year: 2003
Case Forum: Michigan Court of Appeals
Keywords: billboards, exclusionary zoning, ordinance, Home Rule City Act (HRCA), City and Village Zoning Act, First Amendment
Amicus Counsel:

Andrew J. Mulder | P. Haans Mulder| Cunningham Dalman, P.C. | 321 Settlers Road | Holland, MI 49422-1767 | 616-392-1821 | [email protected]


The city of Clawson has two separate and independent sources of authority to regulate billboards–the Home Rule City Act and Michigan’s Constitution. The framers of the 1963 Constitution wanted to reflect Michigan’s successful experience with home rule by providing “a more positive statement and municipal powers, giving home rule cities and villages full power over their property and government subject to this Constitution and law.”
MCL 125.592 of the City and Village Zoning Act prohibiting exclusionary zoning was not intended to apply to billboards. The fundamental theory of exclusionary zoning stems from equal protection and constitutional law–it has been traditionally applied to the “exclusion of particular classes of persons from a community because of their race or social or economic status.” Despite more than eighty years of jurisprudence, a Michigan court has never applied the
concept of exclusionary zoning or MCL 125.592 to billboards.
The city’s sign ordinance is content-neutral and a valid regulation of speech. It is well established that the First
Amendment does not guarantee the right to communicate one’s views at all times and places or that may be desired. There are also alternate channels for communication for Viacom in the city. The US Supreme Court has recognized that billboards are unique advertising devices. Metromedia, 453 US
at 525. The City of Clawon’ s sign ordinance is not a ban on all advertising signs. It permits accessory signs or ones that relate to the use of the property. Both commercial and non-commercial messages are allowed on these signs. The sign ordinance merely prohibits non-accessory or off-premises


Plaintiff challenges the legality of defendant’s ordinance that prohibits “billboards,” meaning readily changeable signs unrelated to the principal use of the premises upon which they are located. We conclude that, because it advances no governmental interest, the ordinance’s prohibition of readily changeable signs violates plaintiff ‘s First Amendment right of free speech. We reverse and remand.

MSC requested LDF amicus brief? No

Viacom Outdoor sued the city of Clawson over an ordinance
that prohibits billboards. Viacom engages in outdoor
advertising by erecting and maintaining billboards on land that it rents or leases. The city denied plaintiff’s requests for building permits to erect its billboards on the locations it leased and did so largely because of the ordinance prohibiting billboards. Plaintiff alleged that the city’s total prohibition of billboards violated the City and Village Zoning Act (CVZA), and violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Defendant
moved for summary disposition which the trial court granted. Plaintiff appealed. The court of appeals reviewed de novo the questions of statutory construction and constitutional interpretation in addition to reviewing de novo the trial court’s granting of summary disposition.

Case Number: 2001-12
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