Thomas Cusack Company v. City of Chicago

Decision Date15 January 1917
Docket NumberNo. 126,126
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. John S. Hummer and James E. McGrath for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Loring R. Hoover, Chester E. Cleveland, and Samuel A. Ettelson for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice Clarke delivered the opinion of the court:

In this proceeding the plaintiff in error, a corporation engaged in 'outdoor advertising,' claims that § 707 of article 23 of an ordinance of the city of Chicago, governing the erection and maintenance of billboards in that city, is unconstitutional.

This section is as follows:

'707. Frontabe consents required.—It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to erect or construct any billboard or signboard in any block on any public street in which one half of the buildings on both sides of the street are used exclusively for residence purposes without first obtaining the consent in writing of the owners or duly authorized agents of said owners owning a majority of the frontage of the property on both sides of the street in the block in which such billboard or sign- board is to be erected, constructed or located. Such written consents shall be filed with the commissioner of buildings before a permit shall be issued for the erection, construction or location of such billboard or signboard.'

The plaintiff in error expressly concedes in this court that it is within the police power of the city of Chicago to exercise within the city limits a reasonable regulation and control over the construction and maintenance of billboards and other similar structures. But it is contended that the section quoted is in terms 'an arbitrary, unrestrained' exercise of power, which, if given effect, could be used without any regard 'to the safety, health, morals, comfort, or welfare of the public,' and that it therefore offends against the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

Obviously, claims made under the 5th Amendment need not be considered (Livingston v. Moore, 7 Pet. 469, 551, 8 L. ed. 751, 781; Lloyd v. Dollison, 194 U. S. 445, 48 L. ed. 1062, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 703), and there remains only the question whether the ordinance, if enforced, would work 'a denial to the plaintiff in error of the equal protection of the laws,' or would 'deprive it of its property without due process of law.'

The claimed infirmity in the ordinance consists in the requirement that before any billboard or signboard of over 12 square feet in area may be erected in any block in which one half of the buildings are used exclusively for residence purposes, the owners of a majority of the frontage of the property on both sides of the street in such block shall consent in writing thereto. This, it is claimed, is not an exercise by the city of power to regulate or control the construction and maintenance of billboards, but is a delegation of legislative power to the owners of a majority of the forntage of the property in the block 'to subject the use to be made of their property by the minority owners of property in such block to the whims and caprices of their neighbors.'

The supreme court of the state of Illinois sustained the validity of the ordinance in an opinion (267 Ill. 344, 108 N. E. 340, Ann. Cas. 1916C, 488) which declares that the act of the legislature of that state, passed in 1912 (Hurd's Stat. 1913, chap. 24, ¶696) is a clear legislative declaration that the subject of billboard advertising shall be subject to municipal control.

It is settled for this court by this decision that the ordinance assailed is within the scope of the power conferred on the city of Chicago by the legislature, that it is to be treated as proceeding from the lawmaking power of the state, and that, therefore, it is a valid ordinance unless the record shows it to be clearly unreasonable and arbitrary. Reinman v. Little Rock, 237 U. S. 171, 59 L. ed. 900, 35 Sup. Ct. Rep. 511.

Upon the question of the reasonableness of the ordinance, much evidence was introduced upon the trial of the case, from which the supreme court finds that fires had been started in the accumulation of combustible material which gathered about such billboards; that offensive and insanitary accumulations are habitually found about them, and that they afford a convenient concealment and shield for immoral practices, and for loiterers and criminals. As bearing upon the limitation of the requirement of the section to blocks 'used exclusively for residence purposes,' ...

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269 cases
  • Curtis v. Board of Supervisors
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    ...L.Ed. 989.This standard is illustrated by a collection of cases cited by respondents, exemplified by Thomas Cusack Co. v. City of Chicago (1917) 242 U.S. 526, 37 S.Ct. 190, 61 L.Ed. 472, and In re Petersen (1958) 51 Cal.2d 177, 331 P.2d 24. Cusack upheld a city ordinance providing that no p......
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    ...v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394, 408, 412-414, 36 S.Ct. 143, 60 L.Ed. 348 [355-358], Ann.Cas.1917B, 927; Thomas Cusack Co. v. Chicago, 242 U.S. 526, 530, 531, 37 S.Ct. 190, 61 L.Ed. 472 [475, 476], L.R.A.1918A, 136, Ann. Cas.1917C, 594; Rast v. Van Deman & L. Co., 240 U.S. 342, 357, 36 S.Ct. 370......
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