Arcadia Osborn Neighborhood v. Clear Channel Outdoor, LLC – 8/15/2023

January 3, 2024

Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, holds that individual plaintiffs and a neighborhood association lack standing to challenge a zoning decision permitting the relocation and digital conversion of billboards.

A media company that owned billboards and the owner of the property where the billboards were located wanted to build a new mixed-use tower on the property and relocate the billboards to the facade of the tower due to zoning constraints.  The media company applied for permits to relocate the billboards and to convert some of them to digital displays.  The city’s zoning officer approved the relocation but denied the request for digital conversion.  Both the media company and a neighborhood association appealed the zoning officer’s decision.  The Phoenix Board of Adjustment upheld the relocation decision but reversed the denial of the media company’s request for digital conversion. 

The neighborhood association and individual plaintiffs then filed a special action in superior court.  The media company moved to dismiss, arguing that all plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the Board’s decision.  The superior court found that the plaintiffs lacked statutory standing and dismissed the complaint.

The court of appeals affirmed.  The Court concluded the individual plaintiffs were not “persons aggrieved” under the applicable statute because they failed to show “particularized harm.”  The individual plaintiffs alleged harms related to traffic safety and loss of aesthetic value in the area.  In both instances, however, the harms they alleged were shared by the general public and therefore were not sufficiently particularized.  The Court also rejected the idea that a “broader category of standing” exists “whenever the case involves a challenge to a billboard.”  Finally, the Court concluded the individual plaintiffs lacked standing to bring constitutional claims because they failed to allege a substantial relationship to third parties whose rights they sought to raise.

As for the neighborhood association, the Court concluded the association had neither representational nor direct organizational standing.  The association lacked representational standing because it failed to establish individual standing on behalf of any of its members.  It lacked direct organizational standing for two reasons.  First, the alleged impairment of its issue advocacy wasn’t the kind of concrete harm that would confer standing.  Second, the association failed to claim that its members were damaged by a special (as opposed to a common) use of the intersection at issue.  Finally, the Court rejected the association’s claim for standing under the Arizona Declaratory Judgments Act because the relief sought was outside the scope of the Act.

Judge Morse authored the opinion, in which Judges Cruz and Kiley joined.

Disclosure: Osborn Maledon attorneys were involved in this case.