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Interstate Outdoor Advertising v. Zoning Board of the Township of Mount Laurel and the

September 19, 2011

INTERSTATE OUTDOOR ADVERTISING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ZONING BOARD OF THE TOWNSHIP OF MOUNT LAUREL AND THE TOWNSHIP OF MOUNT LAUREL, DEFENDANTS.
INTERSTATE OUTDOOR ADVERTISING, PLAINTIFF, V. : ZONING BOARD OF THE TOWNSHIP OF MOUNT LAUREL AND THE TOWNSHIP OF MOUNT LAUREL, DEFENDANTS.
INTERSTATE OUTDOOR ADVERTISING, PLAINTIFF, V. : ZONING BOARD OF THE TOWNSHIP OF MOUNT LAUREL AND THE TOWNSHIP OF MOUNT LAUREL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION (Doc. No. 31)

OPINION

Before the court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's claim that Mt. Laurel's Zoning Ordinance prohibiting the erection of outdoor advertising displays is unconstitutional on First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and New Jersey State Constitution grounds. Upon evaluation of the merits of that motion, the Court finds that the ordinance is a reasonable means of achieving traffic safety and maintaining the natural beauty of the township. Furthermore, the court finds that the evidence the city relies upon is reasonably relevant to city's goals of achieving traffic safety and preserving aesthetics. The Court also finds that the Zoning Ordinance does not discriminate between similarly situated classes, and is not selectively enforced. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 31] is granted.

I. Background

Interstate Outdoor Advertising ("Plaintiff" or "Interstate") is engaged in the business of erecting and leasing outdoor advertising structures in a variety of markets, including Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Interstate's billboards are made available for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. (Gerber Cert. at 3: ¶5). Mt. Laurel first enacted a zoning ordinance banning billboards 23 years ago. (Section 154-81 of Ordinance 1988-7). In 2008, before Mt. Laurel amended its zoning code, Interstate filed nine (9) development applications to the Township Zoning Board of Adjustment ("Zoning Board") proposing to erect nine outdoor advertising signs in the Township along U.S. Interstate-295 (a major transportation corridor with three lanes of traffic in each direction). (See Norman Cert. at 7, Ex. C). After a public hearing on each application, the Zoning Board denied Interstate's requests. (Norman Cert., Exs. F, G, and H).

In 2008, Defendant Township adopted Ordinance 2008-12 (hereinafter "the ordinance") to ban off-site advertising signs such as those erected and leased by Interstate. The Zoning ordinance provides an extensive list of purposes in support of the terms of the ban; however, the primary justifications for the ban are the promotion of traffic safety and aesthetic improvement. As amended, the Zoning Ordinance provides:

154-84. Prohibited Signs. The following signs and sign-types are prohibited within the Township and shall not be erected. . . .

(a) Billboards. . . .

(y) Signs immediately adjacent to Interstate 295 and the New Jersey Turnpike.

(Norman Cert. at 19-20, Ex. D).

Plaintiff challenges those denials and alleges that the Ordinance constitutes an impermissible restriction on freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment.

In response to Defendants' motion seeking dismissal of that claim, Plaintiff's primary argument is that the defendants have not shown a connection between a complete ban of off-site advertising throughout Mt. Laurel and the promotion of traffic safety and aesthetics.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When the Court weighs the evidence presented by the parties, the Court is not to make credibility determinations regarding witness testimony. Sunoco, Inc. v. MX Wholesale Fuel Corp., 565 F. Supp. 2d 572, 575 (D.N.J. 2008). "The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

However, to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must present competent evidence that would be admissible at trial. See Stelwagon Mfg. Co. v. Tarmac Roofing Sys., 63 F.3d 1267, 1275 n.17 (3d Cir. 1995). The nonmoving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of" its pleadings and must present more than just "bare assertions [or] conclusory allegations or suspicions" to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark, N.J. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982) (citation omitted); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). "A party's failure to make a showing that is 'sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial,' mandates the entry of summary judgment." Watson v. Eastman Kodak Co., 235 F.3d 851, 857-58 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322).

III. Analysis

A.Standing

"The 'irreducible constitutional minimum' of Article III standing requires that the plaintiff demonstrate: (1) an injury-in-fact, (2) a causal connection between the injury and the defendant's conduct, and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Toll Bros., Inc. v. Twp. of Readington, 555 F.3d 131, 143 (3d Cir. 2009). The first two prongs of the standing requirement are not in issue. The Township ...


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