Last week, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the City of Austin, Texas’s sign ordinance was content based and unconstitutional due to the fact it impermissibly distinguished between on-premises and off-premises signs. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling follows a similar ruling by the Sixth Circuit in a challenge to a Tennessee state law governing billboards, and sets up the possibility of further confusion in the area of billboard regulation.
In the Austin case, two billboard companies sought permits to convert existing billboards to digital signs. The city denied the permits on the ground that its sign code prohibits new off-premises signs (i.e. signs that advertise business or services not located on the property on which the sign is located) and that conversion of existing billboards to digital faces would change the technology of a nonconforming sign in violation of the code. The billboard companies challenged the denial in state court. The city removed the case to federal court. During the pendency of the litigation, the city amended its sign code to allow the substitution of noncommercial messages on any commercial sign in the city. Following a bench trial, the district court determined that the sign code was content neutral and denied the billboard companies’ request for declaratory judgment.
Continue Reading Austin, Texas Sign Ordinance Declared Content Based, Unconstitutional