Photo: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

“A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit by Adams Outdoor Advertising that claimed the city of Madison’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional.

The city and Adams have been battling in court over the city’s sign ordinances for decades, with the newly decided federal lawsuit filed in 2017. Adams owns and operates many billboards in Wisconsin, including about 90 in Madison.

Adams’federal lawsuit began as a sweeping First Amendment challenge to the city’s sign ordinance under a legal standard set in a previous U.S. Supreme Court case involving another municipality. It also challenged the city’s distinction between on- and off-premises signs as well as regulation of digital signs.

In April 2017, Adams submitted 26 applications to the city seeking to modify or replace existing billboards, including raising the height of structures and installing digital sign faces. In June 2017, then-city zoning administrator Matthew Tucker denied 25 of the 26 permits, citing ordinance provisions the proposed modifications would violate. The next month, Adams filed the lawsuit in federal court.

In April 2020, a federal judge dismissed the challenge, saying there’s no constitutional problem with Madison’s sign ordinance. ‘Whether the Capitol Square should look like Times Square is a decision that Madison city government is entitled to make,’ U.S. District Judge James Peterson said at the time.

Adams appealed that decision.

Now, on Jan. 4, in a 16-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, upheld the federal district court’s dismissal of Adams’ claims.

‘The city is pleased with this outcome,” Assistant City Attorney Lara Mainella said. “It supports and reinforces our understanding of the law. The city has always been careful to enact and enforce its sign regulations in a way that honors the First Amendment speech rights of those who wish to display signs in our city…'”

— Dean Mosiman, Wisconsin State Journal

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