Last month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s denial of an adult business’s motion for preliminary injunction against Indianapolis. The appeals court found that the business, Hustler Hollywood (HH), was unlikely to prevail on the merits of its as-applied First Amendment claim against the city.
In the case, HH entered into a ten-year lease on a property located in the city’s C-3 commercial zoning district. It had a problem, though: the C-3 district prohibits adult entertainment businesses, except with a variance. When the plaintiff applied for sign and building permits with the city’s Department of Business and Neighborhood Services, it was flagged as potentially disallowed by the zoning code. While HH submitted various materials to try to convince city staff that it was not an adult entertainment business as defined by the code, staff determined that the use was not permitted in the C-3 district. The plaintiff appealed to the city’s zoning appeals board, which voted 5-0 to affirm staff’s determination.
Instead of appealing the board’s decision to the Indiana state courts as provided by state statute, HH filed a federal First Amendment claim. It sought preliminary injunctive relief, but the district court denied the motion.
On appeal, the Seventh Circuit found that the city’s zoning scheme was constitutional under the secondary effects doctrine. The court held that the city’s regulation of sexually-oriented businesses, which allowed adult entertainment businesses in other zone districts (just not in the C-3 district), was properly aimed at preventing negative secondary effects of such establishments. The court further found that HH had several alternative avenues for communication, including in several other zoning districts around the city—including the zoning district directly across the street from Hustler Hollywood’s property. To the extent HH believed that city staff erred in classifying its business as an adult entertainment business, the Seventh Circuit advised that HH should have brought a state court appeal, as the classification of the business is not of First Amendment concern.
The Seventh Circuit’s decision in the case is yet another indicator that the secondary effects doctrine remains alive and well following Supreme Court cases that have walked back a more liberal content neutrality standard.