The ability of Illinois municipalities to regulate billboards along interstate highways has been the subject of much litigation over the past few decades. These disputes usually center around the sometimes-conflicting provisions of the Highway Advertising Control Act of 1971 (“Highway Act”).
The Highway Act provides maximum size, spacing, and lighting restrictions for interstate highway billboards that are permitted by IDOT. However, the Highway Act also expressly authorizes municipalities to adopt more restrictive regulations for interstate highway billboards than those imposed by the Highway so long as the municipal regulations are consistent with “customary use.” Many advertisers have challenged municipal billboard regulations on the grounds that they exceeded the authority provided under the Highway Act or were inconsistent with the “customary use” of billboards. A number of Illinois courts have upheld home rule municipal bans on billboards, and both home rule and non-home rule municipal restrictions on the size and location of billboards.
A recent decision by an Illinois circuit upholding the billboard regulations of a non-home rule municipality may provide more clarity to the issue. In WC Media v. Village of Gilberts, an advertiser challenged the Village’s size, spacing, and lighting regulations for interstate billboards. The Village had adopted billboard size restrictions that mirrored the restrictions that apply to all signs in the Village’s commercial and industrial districts.
An advertiser filed a lawsuit against the Village alleging that the Village’s billboard regulations violated the Highway Act because (1) the size limitations were so strict that they eliminated a billboard’s commercial value, which acted as an effective prohibition on billboards; and (2) the Village’s billboard regulations were inconsistent with the customary use of billboards preferred by advertisers. The lawsuit claimed that the Village’s ordinance was “facially” unconstitutional. The Village filed a motion to dismiss the advertiser’s complaint based on the various Illinois cases upholding a municipality’s authority to restrict billboards, among other defenses.
The court sided with the Village and dismissed the advertiser’s complaint with prejudice. In addition to finding that the advertiser did not meet its burden to challenge the ordinance on “facial” grounds, the court also found that the size and spacing restrictions imposed by the Village did not violate the Highway Act or the “customary use” of billboards. While not directly deciding the question, the ruling also seemed to imply that non-home rule municipalities could completely prohibit billboards, stating that “if a total ban on highway billboards does not run afoul of the act, it follows that Defendant’s ordinance must be valid.”
The advertiser has filed an appeal of the decision, and we will keep you updated when a final ruling is issued. However, if upheld, this ruling will confirm the authority of non-home rule municipalities to tailor their billboard regulations to local circumstances without violating the Highway Act.
Post Authored by Kurt Asprooth & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink
Disclaimer: Ancel Glink represented the Village in this case.