Adult Business Regulation

Last week, a federal district court in Massachusetts accepted a nude dancing establishment’s argument that the City of Chelsea violated the First Amendment in denying a building permit for renovations to the business’s premises.  In so doing, the court struck down the city’s adult business zoning regulations and directed the city to treat the establishment under other use classifications contained in the code.

Chelsea’s zoning code provides for several zoning districts, including industrial, highway business, shopping center, and retail commercial business districts.  The code allows for an “art use”, defined as “the creation, manufacture or assemblage of visual art, including two or three dimensional works of fine art or craft, or other fine art objects created, manufactured or assembled for the purpose of sale, display, commission, consignment or trade by artists or artisans; or classes held for art instruction,” in the industrial district, and by special permit in the retail business and highway business districts.  The code also allows for theater uses in the retail and shopping center districts, and adult entertainment uses in the highway commercial and shopping center districts.  Adult entertainment uses and theater uses are not allowed in the industrial district.
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The Taboo adult novelty store in Columbia, South Carolina. Source: thestate.com.

In an unpublished decision issued in late January, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Columbia, South Carolina regulation limiting the locations of adult businesses was a valid, content neutral regulation, applying what is commonly known as the “secondary effects” doctrine.  That doctrine allows local governments to specially regulate adult businesses in a content neutral manner on the grounds that such regulations counter the secondary effects—such as crime, prostitution, and neighborhood blight—of such businesses.

In December 2011, an adult business—“Taboo”—opened the only adult business establishment in Columbia, a book and novelty store.  That same month, Columbia enacted restrictions on adult businesses, including a 700-foot dispersal requirement from “sensitive” uses such as religious institutions, schools, parks, and residential uses, as well as a 1,000-foot dispersal requirement from other adult uses.  The regulations allowed a two-year amortization period in which an adult business in one of the restricted areas could operate before being shut down.  Taboo was located in one of the restricted areas, and continued to operate for the amortization period.  At the end of the amortization period, Taboo sued the city under the First Amendment.
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Earlier this month, the 11th Circuit considered the constitutionality of an ordinance enacted in Sandy Springs, Georgia, which criminalizes the distribution of sexual devices.  Although not a First Amendment case, we’re including a post on the case because the decision relates to a First Amendment-protected land use—adult businesses—and introduces an alternative constitutional theory for

This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer law clerk Matt Bender.  Matt is a rising third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Two weeks ago, a federal court in California dismissed a plaintiff’s claim that casino gaming was a First Amendment-protected activity.

Wared Alfarah, the plaintiff in this case, ran a retail business selling e-cigarette products.  To encourage customers to linger around his store, Mr. Alfarah offered pay-to-play games where the player tried to stop a computer cursor on a specific bar in a series of rotating bars.  If done correctly, the player won a random amount of prize money.  Although the location of the bars was randomized, the player’s “skill” allegedly determined his success.
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Pictured above is Silk, a club owned by one of the plaintiffs in the case. Source: onmilwaukee.com

Before 2012, the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin required strip clubs to obtain one of three business licenses: if the club included both alcohol and nudity, the club would require both a liquor license and a “tavern-amusement license”; a dry strip club required either a “theater license” or a “public-entertainment club license.”
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