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Federal judge hands L.A. a billboard lawsuit victory

November 12, 2009 |  6:20 pm

Though they are still fighting as many as 20 billboard lawsuits, Los Angeles officials eked out a victory this week in their struggle to stop the proliferation of billboards and supergraphics. A federal judge dismissed one of three lawsuits filed by the outdoor advertising firm World Wide Rush LLC.

The company argued that it had a right to erect new signs or supergraphics because it requested permits during a four-month period in late 2008 — between the August date that the city’s 2002 outdoor advertising ban was struck down and that December, when the city enacted a new temporary ban on the signs.

World Wide Rush claimed that officials at the city Department of Building and Safety wrongly refused to approve permits for new signs during that period even though the 2002 sign ban had been invalidated. Under the company’s logic, their applications were wrongly denied — therefore they should have a right to put up new supergraphics or signs now even though the city has a ban in place.

U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins rejected World Wide Rush’s argument, stating only companies that have been issued permits have a “vested right” to erect the signs. The court also said it was unclear whether the city ever formally rejected the company’s permit requests.

Lawyers for the city feared that many other billboard companies were watching the outcome of the suit — and that if World Wide Rush had been successful, they too would have tried to put up hundreds of new signs.

“The city attorney is very pleased with Judge Collins’ ruling in this World Wide Rush case, and it sends a strong signal to those billboard companies operating in the city of Los Angeles that the city will aggressively defend its billboard laws,” said Chief Assistant City Atty. David Michaelson.

Representatives of World Wide Rush could not be reached for comment.

—Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall