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Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership v. City of Madison

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 3, 2018

ADAMS OUTDOOR ADVERTISING LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MADISON and MATTHEW TUCKER, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership is in the billboard business. It has filed suit against defendants the City of Madison and the city's zoning administrator, Matthew Tucker, challenging the constitutionality of the city's sign-control ordinance. Dkt. 17.

         Several discovery-related motions are before the court. I'll cut through the extensive briefing and state the issue in the most general terms: Adams seeks extensive information about defendants' purposes in enacting the sign ordinance. Defendants resist many of Adams's requests on the grounds that the motivations of individual legislators are privileged and irrelevant, and that Adams's requests are unduly burdensome in light of the value of the discovery to the needs of this case.

         I'm skeptical of defendants' assertion of legislative privilege. Generally, legislative bodies in Wisconsin are supposed to do their work in the open. I accept that a qualified privilege might protect the most private deliberations of lawmakers, but that privilege would have to yield to the legitimate needs of a litigant to acquire relevant information in a case like this. But I am persuaded that the information Adams seeks is largely irrelevant, and its requests are definitely not proportional to the needs of the case. So for the most part, I am ruling for defendants.

         BACKGROUND

         The city of Madison adopted the sign-control ordinance in 1977. The ordinance has been revised several times since then, most recently in December 2017. The ordinance prohibits new, relocated, or replacement advertising signs, and it subjects existing advertising signs to strict regulations. See Madison, Wis., Ordinances § 31.11. In its current version, the ordinance defines an “advertising sign” as a “sign containing a commercial message directing attention to a business, commodity, service, or entertainment, not related to the premises at which the sign is located, or directing attention to a business, commodity, service or entertainment conducted, sold or offered elsewhere than on the premises where the sign is located.” § 31.03(2). It explains that its regulations are meant “to further the goals of safety and aesthetics” and lists seven specific purposes. § 31.02(1).

         Adams brings facial and as-applied challenges to the ordinance under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It alleges that the ordinance bans all new advertising signs within the city and severely restricts existing advertising signs without imposing similar restrictions on signs with noncommercial content, and that it does so in a manner not narrowly tailored to advance a compelling governmental interest. For its as-applied claim, it alleges that Tucker's denials of Adams's applications for permits under the ordinance violate Adams's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

         Discovery Motion 1.

         On May 31, 2018, Adams moved to compel defendants to produce the following information:

• The city's Common Council members, alders, employees, and attorneys involved in drafting or adopting any of the provisions of the sign-control ordinance and a description of each individual's role
• A description of the governmental interests that the city claims are served by the ordinance, documents related to those interests, and correspondence between any Common Council member, alder, or city employee related to those interests
• “Studies, data, and reports in the city's possession related to traffic accidents in the city within the last twenty years”
• “Studies, data and reports related to signs and their potential impact on safety and/or aesthetics”

         Dkt. 29, at 4. Defendants indicate that they have directed Adams to websites where much of this information is publicly available-video recordings of recent Common Council meetings, meeting minutes, and records about the ordinance's sponsors, procedural history, and voting results. They have also produced a memo describing the ordinance's history and an expert report identifying studies about billboards and traffic safety. (They have searched for other studies in their possession, but they have not found any.) And they have identified city officials with knowledge of the “legislative process.” Dkt. 32, at 6. They contend that anything more is protected by the legislative privilege, irrelevant, and not proportional to the needs of the case.

         Discovery Motion 2.

         On June 6, Adams deposed Timothy Parks, an employee of the city's Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development. During the deposition, Adams asked Parks about internal discussions he may have had with other city officials concerning the ordinance. Defendants' counsel advised Parks not to answer, citing legislative privilege. The parties called upon Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker to resolve the dispute; the magistrate ordered briefing on defendants' assertion of the legislative privilege. Dkt. 30.

         Discovery Motion 3.

         On June 17, defendants filed a motion for a protective order concerning Adams's Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice, again contending that much of the information Adams seeks is protected by the legislative privilege, irrelevant, and not proportional to the needs of the case. Dkt. 41. They also contend that the notice fails to ...


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