R.O.A. General v. Salt Lake City

December 19, 2022

Utah Court of Appeals

2022 UT App 141 (click for full text of opinion)

The Utah Court of Appeals vacated a district court’s judgment for inverse condemnation in favor of a billboard owner whose relocation request was denied by the city, and remanded the case for further proceedings. 

R.O.A. General is the successor to Outfront Media LLC, formerly known as CBS Outdoor. In 2014, CBS applied to relocate its billboard to an adjacent lot along I-15 in Salt Lake City because its ground lease was about to expire, and additionally asked to increase the height of the relocated sign. CBS demolished its billboard shortly after making its request to avoid remaining on the land after the lease expiration. The stated basis for CBS’s request was Utah Code Section 72-7-510.5, which specifically addresses height adjustments. The City denied the request, but stated that CBS could modify its application to request relocation under Section 10-9a-511(3)(c)(i). CBS thereafter modified its relocation request to conform with section 511, stating it did so at the City’s invitation. Meanwhile, the City received a competing request to relocate another billboard to CBS’s location, and it could not approve both because of spacing requirements, and therefore approved the other request and denied CBS’s request. 

CBS appealed the City’s denial of the relocation request, which led to the Utah Supreme Court’s decision in Outfront Media LLC v. Salt Lake City (2017). In that case, CBS argued that the denial was an illegal use of eminent domain because the City did not follow the procedural steps of the eminent domain statute, and that state law otherwise required the City to approve the relocation, and the denial was arbitrary and capricious. In Outfront Media, the Utah Supreme Court upheld the denial, and rejected CBS’s argument that state law required approval of the relocation, clarifying that Utah Code Section 10-9a-513 gave a municipality the option of permitting a relocation, or denying it and paying just compensation. However, the Court’s opinion did not expressly state that the City was obligated to pay CBS compensation under the circumstances of this particular dispute.  

Following the Outfront Media opinion, CBS filed the present action against the City, seeking inverse condemnation and arguing that the City’s denial of its relocation entitled CBS to just compensation. The City moved for summary judgment, citing various reasons why CBS was not entitled to compensation. Particularly, the City argued that because CBS had already demolished its sign before making its request for relocation, it did not have an existing billboard to relocate and did not qualify for compensation. CBS opposed the motion, arguing that the City’s provided grounds for summary judgment were all a completely different basis for denial of CBS’s application, and these new reasons for denial should be precluded by judicial doctrines of judicial estoppel, equitable estoppel, res judicata, or should otherwise be considered to have been waived. The district court issued a decision denying the City’s motion, finding that the Outfront Media opinion established an undisputed factual background to mean that there was no dispute that CBS qualified for compensation, and interpreted the opinion to have determined that the City’s denial of CBS’s application required compensation. The district court thereafter entered a final order and judgment awarding compensation to CBS. The City appealed.

On appeal, the City argued that the district court erred in determining that Outfront Media resolved the question of whether denial of CBS’s application required compensation, and that in reaching its decision, the district court did not expressly apply a legal doctrine, and that the court erred in concluding that the City was estopped from raising statutory arguments that CBS did not qualify for compensation. The Utah Court of Appeals agreed that the district court had incorrectly interpreted Outfront Media as deciding that CBS was, in fact, entitled to compensation under the specific circumstances of this case, and that the City was precluded from raising statutory arguments in its motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals therefore vacated the court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings.