Adams Outdoor Advertising, Ltd. v. Department of Transportation
860 A.2d 600 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004)
In this case, an outdoor advertising agency had a billboard located in a residential district. The Department of Transportation stated that a change to the billboard constituted abandonment. Because it determined that the billboard was abandoned, the permit for a non-conforming use was no longer valid. The advertising agency asserted laches (an undue delay without a justifiable purpose to pursue an action that prejudices the defendant’s ability to present evidence) as a defense to the revocation of the permit. The court stated that the advertising agency failed to show the requisite “high degree” of prejudice.
The permit for the billboard as a non-conforming use was issued in 1974. The 1974 permit stated that the billboard was “V-shaped” with a wooden base. In 1988, the wooden sign was replaced with a sign made of a single steel base. In a letter sent in 1995, the Department requested the advertising agency to remove its sign because it was deemed illegal since it was “replaced with a new sign and was therefore deemed abandoned.” In 2003, the Department instituted this action.
When a defendant asserts laches as a defense against the Commonwealth, he must show that the Commonwealth delayed in bringing the action against him, there was no justifiable reason for the delay and the delay caused a “high degree” of “actual” prejudice. Examples of prejudice are the death of a witness, destruction of essential records, or a change in position. Because the plaintiff could not show “actual” prejudice, the court did not accept the defense.
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