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Supreme Court Rules in Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC v. DHA

On December 19, 2019, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of Lamar in Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC v. DHA. In July 2019, GLLF submitted an amicus brief to the Wisconsin Supreme Court siding with Lamar and later participated in oral arguments before the court.

The case arose in 2012 after Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC (Lamar) requested permission from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to remove the vegetation surrounding its lawful but nonconforming billboard sign. DOT denied the request and issued a removal order against the billboard since past records showed extensions were placed on the billboard years earlier, expanding the sign beyond its lawful nonconforming status.

Lamar appealed the order and argued that even if the sign violated the size requirement, Wisconsin law gave it a chance to cure the violation. Wis. Stat. § 84.30(11) provides sign owners a 60-day “right to cure” before a sign-removal order goes into effect. DOT previously gave nonconforming billboard signs the right to cure, but changed its application of the law without promulgating a rule.

According to DOT, it did not need to promulgate a rule since the new interpretation reflected the correct reading of the statute.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed. In a 7-0 decision, it held that under Wis. Stat. § 227.10(1), DOT needed to promulgate a new rule reflecting the new interpretation of the statute. The decision underscores the importance of rulemaking for maintaining the due process rights of the regulated community.