Programs & Services

Legal Defense Fund Top 25: Case 10

Outdoor Systems v City of Clawson

262 Mich App 716 (2004)

Issue: Prohibition of billboards

The city of Clawson adopted a zoning ordinance regulating signs and specifically prohibiting billboards. Its ordinance allows large outdoor signage in certain zoning districts. The ordinance, however, prohibits “billboards” which it defined as a “non-accessory sign” on which the display is readily changed. A non-accessory sign is defined as a sign that does not pertain to the principal use of the premises on which the sign is located.

Outdoor Systems engaged in outdoor advertising, erecting, and maintaining billboards on property that it owns or leases and selling advertising space. Outdoor Systems applied for building permits to erect billboards on several locations. The city denied the requests on the basis that its ordinance prohibited billboards. Outdoor Systems alleged that the total prohibition violated the City and Village Zoning Act (CVZA) (i.e. was an act of unlawful exclusionary zoning) and the free speech protection of the First Amendment of the federal Constitution.


Why did the LDF get involved?
The League recognized the importance of upholding the home rule authority of a city to regulate billboards as provided by the Michigan Constitution, the Home Rule City Act and the CVZA. In addition, Michigan jurisprudence had never before applied the concept of exclusionary zoning to billboards.What action did the LDF take?
Filed an amicus brief with Michigan Court of Appeals

What was the outcome?
The circuit court held that the total prohibition was not an exercise of exclusionary zoning and did not violate the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Outdoor Systems had not met its burden to show that there was a public demand for new billboards in order to establish a claim of exclusionary zoning. However, the court found that by banning billboards (which it had defined as readily changeable), the ordinance violated Outdoor Systems’ right of free speech since the ordinance was not narrowly drawn to advance a legitimate governmental interest.

Who prepared the amicus brief?
Andrew J. Mulder (Cunningham Dalman, P.C.)

©2022 Michigan Municipal League LLC. All rights reserved