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Legal Defense Fund Top 25: Case 17

Adams Outdoor Advertising v City of East Lansing

463 Mich 17 (2000)

Issue: Billboards – taking

In 1975 the city of East Lansing adopted a sign code which prohibited rooftop signs. The code’s amortization provision required removal of any rooftop sign by Nov. 1, 1987. Adams Outdoor Advertising sued, alleging that the city lacked statutory authority to adopt the amortization provision. The circuit court ruled in favor of Adams; the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Home Rule City Act’s grant of authority to the city to regulate signs included the ability to include an amortization provision.

When the case was sent back to the circuit court, however, the court found that the application of the sign code to the rooftop signs effected a taking. Courts have found that land use regulations can constitute a taking in two general situations: 1) when they fail to substantially advance a legitimate governmental interest or 2) when they deny an owner economically viable use of the land.

The second type of taking has been further subdivided into either a so-called “categorical” taking, where the owner is deprived of all economically beneficial or productive use of the property, or a taking based on the application of a balancing test. The Court of Appeals affirmed that East Lansing’s ordinance resulted in a taking. The city appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Why did the LDF get involved?
At issue was whether a validly enacted, legally enforceable police power ordinance that requires the removal, after a specified amortization period, of existing off-premises advertising billboards effects a taking requiring compensation. The case presented the opportunity for Michigan to join the great majority of jurisdictions that have addressed the question and found that no taking results as long as the amortization period is reasonable.

What action did the LDF take?
Filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals

What was the outcome?
The Michigan Supreme Court found that the sign code prohibiting rooftop billboards was not a regulatory taking and, accordingly, the city was not required to pay compensation to Adams Outdoor Advertising.

Who prepared the amicus brief?
Michelle Thomas (Sullivan, Ward, Bone, Tyler, Fist and Asher)
(Michigan Court of Appeals)
Gerald A. Fisher (Secrest, Wardle, Lynch, Hampton, Truex and Morley)
(Michigan Supreme Court)
Thomas R. Schultz (Secrest, Wardle, Lynch, Hampton, Truex and Morley)
(Michigan Supreme Court)

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