In a case that we reported on earlier this year, a federal court in Pennsylvania has ruled that the failure to provide a deadline by which the government is required to make permitting decisions renders that state’s outdoor advertising law unconstitutional. Nonetheless, PennDOT can remedy the problem by simply imposing internal processing timeframes.
The facts of the case can be found in our earlier post.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court found that the permitting provisions of the act violated the First Amendment. Pennsylvania’s outdoor advertising law does not contain any deadlines by which the state must rule on a billboard permit application. Under the Supreme Court’s rulings in City of Littleton v. Z.J. Gifts and Thomas v. Chicago Park District, a content based law must have a clear permitting timeframe in order to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court determined that the Pennsylvania statute was content based, because it exempted “official signs” and “directional signs” from permitting. As there was no timeframe required for the issuance of other permits, the court invalidated the permitting provisions of the statute. Of course, PennDOT can remedy the constitutional violation by simply imposing internal permitting timeframes.
The court ruled in favor of the state’s department of transportation with respect to the plaintiff’s other claims. Namely, the court found that the prohibition on advertising signs within 500 feet of highway interchanges was content neutral, as it did not, as interpreted by PennDOT, contain any exceptions. The court found that the provision met the requirements of intermediate scrutiny, because it was sufficiently narrowly tailored to the state’s interests in motorist safety.
Adams Outdoor Adver. Limited Partnership v. Pa. Dept. of Transp., No. 5:17-cv-01253, 2018 WL 2676429 (E.D. Pa. Jun. 5, 2018).