This case is before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on a certified question from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The question is whether the Massachusetts Legislature has authorized the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (“MassDOT”) to regulate all “off-premise” outdoor advertising (billboards, outside signs, and the like) throughout the Commonwealth. The SJC issued an amicus call on the question and NELF filed an amicus brief in support of Outfront Media, arguing that the MassDOT had acted without legislative authorization when it promulgated regulations purporting to regulate all off-premise outdoor advertising in the Commonwealth.
The issue was of importance to NELF and its supporters because outdoor advertising companies have long been subject to detailed and demanding local regulation by towns and cities throughout the state, and do not need to be burdened with duplicative and costly regulations at the state level.
In its brief, NELF argued that when the Massachusetts Legislature created MassDOT in 2009 in an omnibus Transportation Act, that same Act abolished the Outdoor Advertising Board, a state agency that for several decades had regulated the placement and manner of outdoor advertising in Massachusetts. Notably, the 2009 Act did not re-delegate the former Outdoor Advertising Agency’s regulatory powers to the MassDOT. By contrast, NELF argued that the Legislature, in the past, had indeed re-delegated the rulemaking authority of a predecessor outdoor advertising agency to its successor state agency, by so amending the relevant provisions of the enabling statutes. Therefore, the Legislature’s failure to do so in 2009 can only be a deliberate choice to remove the state from regulating all outdoor advertisements throughout the Commonwealth. Moreover, the Legislature has for nearly 100 years authorized cities and towns to regulate outdoor advertising. And both the Legislature and and the SJC have recognized that the regulation of outdoor advertising is primarily a local issue, because only local governments can respond to the particular aesthetic concerns and geographical details of each neighborhood.
To reinforce this point, NELF provided an extensive analysis and summary of the ordinances and bylaws of several cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth. NELF demonstrated persuasively that several cities and towns have done far more than the disputed state regulations to restrict the size, placement, and manner of outdoor advertising. Therefore, state regulation of the same issue is unnecessary.
After filing its brief, NELF received word that the case had settled, leaving the legal issue unresolved.