On Thursday, in the case of City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising, a case on which we’ve previously reported, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the City of Austin, Texas’s off-premises sign regulations were permissible under the First Amendment.  The Court’s ruling ensures that state billboard laws and thousands of local sign regulations that distinguish between on-premises (i.e. signs whose messages relate to an activity occurring on the same property where the sign is located) and off-premises signs (i.e. billboards) will remain intact and constitutional.

In the case, Austin denied permits to two billboard companies that were seeking to convert existing, static billboards to digital signs.  The billboard companies challenged, and the city removed to federal court.  The district court rejected the billboard companies’ challenge.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the city’s sign code, which prohibited the erection of new off-premises advertising signs and further prohibited technological changes to nonconforming signs, violated the First Amendment.  The appeals court’s decision was based on the conclusion that the regulation was content based.  Under prior cases, including the 2015 ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the Court determined that laws that regulate the message or subject matter of signs are constitutionally suspect.  The appeals court’s holding in the case was premised upon the fact that the off-premises advertising restriction related specifically to the content of a sign.  Under the sign code, if the sign’s message related to goods and services on the property where the sign was located, it would be permissible; if the message addressed other matters, it would be prohibited.
Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Austin, Texas in Billboard Case, Upholds Off-Premises Sign Regulations

Last week, a federal district court in Massachusetts accepted a nude dancing establishment’s argument that the City of Chelsea violated the First Amendment in denying a building permit for renovations to the business’s premises.  In so doing, the court struck down the city’s adult business zoning regulations and directed the city to treat the establishment under other use classifications contained in the code.

Chelsea’s zoning code provides for several zoning districts, including industrial, highway business, shopping center, and retail commercial business districts.  The code allows for an “art use”, defined as “the creation, manufacture or assemblage of visual art, including two or three dimensional works of fine art or craft, or other fine art objects created, manufactured or assembled for the purpose of sale, display, commission, consignment or trade by artists or artisans; or classes held for art instruction,” in the industrial district, and by special permit in the retail business and highway business districts.  The code also allows for theater uses in the retail and shopping center districts, and adult entertainment uses in the highway commercial and shopping center districts.  Adult entertainment uses and theater uses are not allowed in the industrial district.
Continue Reading Massachusetts Court Strikes Down Local Adult Business Regulations