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U.S. Supreme Court

St. Louis Poster Advertising Co. v. St. Louis, 249 U.S. 269 (1919)

St. Louis Poster Advertising Company v. City of St. Louis

Nos. 220 and 2

Argued March 12, 13, 1919

Decided March 24, 1919

249 U.S. 269



A city ordinance allowing no billboard of 25 square feet or more to be put up without a permit, and none to extend more than 14 feet high above ground, requiring an open space of 4 feet between the lower edge and the ground, forbidding an approach of nearer than 6 feet to any building or to the side of any lot than 2 feet to any other

Page 249 U. S. 270

billboard or 15 feet to the street, requiring conformity to the building line, limiting billboard in area to 500 square feet, and exacting a permit fee of one dollar for every 5 lineal feet held within the police power. P. 249 U. S. 274. Cusack Co. v. Chicago, 242 U. S. 526.

Making billboard safe against wind and fire may not exempt them from the power of restriction or prohibition. Id.

Such regulations may not improperly include incidental and relatively trifling requirements founded in part, at least, on aesthetic reasons such as a requirement of conformity to a building line. Id.

A high tax imposed by a city on billboards for the purpose of discouraging them is not objectionable under the Constitution. Id.

It is not an answer to an ordinance regulating the size, etc., of billboards that they are on land leased or belonging to their owner, or that their owner has contracted ahead to maintain advertisements upon them, or that the size of board allowed is too small for standard posters and that these cannot be changed without affecting the business disastrously. Id.

195 S.W. 717 affirmed.

The cases are stated in the opinion.

Page 249 U. S. 272

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The first mentioned of these cases was brought by the plaintiff in error in a State Court of Missouri to prevent the City of St. Louis and its officials from enforcing an ordinance regulating the erection of billboards on the ground that the ordinance is contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment in various respects. The suit was begun on March 21, 1914, and on May 22, 1917, a judgment of that Court dismissing it upon demurrer was affirmed by the supreme court of the state. 195 S.W. 717.

Page 249 U. S. 273

The other case was begun a little earlier, on January 30, 1914, in the district court of the United States by a bill in equity substantially to the same effect as in the state case. The bill was dismissed upon motion on February 29, 1914. The two cases appear to have proceeded to a conclusion without any reference to each other, but, as they involve the same parties and the same questions, they have been argued as one case here.

The ordinance complained of is number 22,022, passed on April 7, 1905. It allows no billboard of twenty-five square feet or more to be put up without a permit, and none to extend more than fourteen feet high above the ground. It requires an open space of four feet to be left between the lower edge and the ground, forbids an approach of nearer than six feet to any building or to the side of the lot, or nearer than two feet to any other billboard or than fifteen feet to the street line, and, with qualifications, requires conformity to the building line. No billboard is to exceed four hundred square feet in area. The fee for a permit is one dollar for every five lineal feet. The bill states that the size of posters has been standardized and cannot be changed without great expense, and that the limits in size fixed for the boards are too small for such posters, and will affect the plaintiff's business disastrously. The billboards are all upon private ground owned by or let to the plaintiff. They are built to withstand a windstorm of eighty-three miles an hour, a greater velocity than any known in St. Louis, and the frames and facing are of galvanized iron so as to exclude all danger of fire. The plaintiff has contracts running from six months to three years binding it to maintain advertisements upon its boards. The defendants are proposing to tear down these boards unless the plaintiff complies with the ordinance. This is a greatly abbreviated statement of the case, but is sufficient, we believe, to present the question that we have to decide.

Page 249 U. S. 274

Of course, the several restrictions that have been mentioned are said to be unreasonable and unconstitutional limitations of the liberty of the individual and of rights of property in land. But the argument comes too late. This Court has recognized the correctness of the decision in St. Louis Gunning Advertising Co. v. St. Louis, 235 Mo. 99, followed in this case, that billboards properly may be put in a class by themselves and prohibited "in the residence districts of a city in the interest of the safety, morality, health and decency of the community." Thomas Cusack Co. v. Chicago, 242 U. S. 526, 242 U. S. 529-530. It is true that, according to the bill, the plaintiff has done away with dangers from fire and wind, but apart from the question whether those dangers do not remain sufficient to justify the general rule, they are or may be the least of the objections adverted to in the cases. 235 Mo. 99; Kansas City Gunning Advertising Co. v. Kansas City, 240 Mo. 659, 671. Possibly one or two details, especially the requirement of conformity to the building line, have aesthetic considerations in view more obviously than anything else. But, as the main burdens imposed stand on other ground, we should not be prepared to deny the validity of relatively trifling requirements that did not look solely to the satisfaction of rudimentary wants that alone we generally recognize as necessary. Hubbard v. Taunton, 140 Mass. 467, 468.

If the city desired to discourage billboards by a high tax, we know of nothing to hinder, even apart from the right to prohibit them altogether asserted in the Cusack Co. case. Citizens' Telephone Co. v. Fuller, 229 U. S. 322, 229 U. S. 329. As to the plaintiff's contracts, so far as appears, they were made after the ordinance was passed, but if made before it, they were subject to legislation not invalid otherwise than for its incidental effect upon them. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Goldsboro, 232 U. S. 548, 232 U. S. 558. The same thing may be said, apart from other answers,

Page 249 U. S. 275

with regard to the alleged standardizing of the size of posters. In view of our recent decision, we think further argument unnecessary to show that the ordinance must be upheld.

Judgment in No. 220 and decree in No. 2 affirmed.

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