Entertainment Businesses

The Gentleman’s Playground in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Source: Yelp

This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer associate Lindsay Lyda.  Lindsay is a rising third-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School.

A few weeks ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s summary judgment order upholding Rocky Mount, North Carolina’s sexually-oriented business regulations against a First Amendment challenge by an exotic dance club known as “The Gentlemen’s Playground.”  As this is a professional blog, we will refrain from further commentary on the combination of the parties’ names, but invite our readers to conjure up whatever creative taglines come to mind.

American Entertainers has operated the club in Rocky Mount since 2002.  The city requires that all sexually oriented businesses obtain a license.  After discovering that The Gentlemen’s Playground was not licensed, the city sought to enforce its ordinance against the owner.  In response, American Entertainers challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  The district court granted summary judgment for the city.  On appeal the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.

American Entertainers asserted that the definition of “sexually oriented business” in the ordinance was overbroad, so as to encompass “conventional, mainstream arts and entertainment.”  The Fourth Circuit rejected the claim and found that the ordinance was adopted for a purpose unrelated to suppression of expression, i.e. to offset the deleterious consequences, like lower property values and increased rate of crime, that accompany exotic dance clubs.  The court further found that the licensing requirement materially advanced the city’s substantial interest.  According to the court, the licensing fee was an acceptable way for the city to counteract some of the administrative and enforcement burdens that exotic dance clubs bring to a city.  The court also found that the ordinance was narrowly tailored to this important interest, noting that American Entertainers offered no evidence that the license itself restricted free speech.

Additionally, American Entertainers challenged two of the license-denial provisions, including one that allowed the city’s police chief to deny a license if the business would not comply with “all applicable laws,” and another that prohibited any applicant under twenty one years old from obtaining a license to operate a sexually oriented business.  The appeals court held that the provision allowing denial for violation of applicable laws was an unconstitutional prior restraint.  It failed to limit the phrase “applicable laws” and was susceptible to the chief of police creating trivial reasons to deny a license.  Ultimately, the court remanded this issue to the district court to determine whether and to what extent this provision is severable from the rest of the ordinance.

Finally, the plaintiff argued that the age restriction infringed upon equal protection and the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.  However, because the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not recognize age as a suspect class, the age restriction needs only to be rationally related to the city’s interest.  The court had no difficulty reasoning that because alcohol is typically served at exotic dance venues, the age restriction was rationally related to the city’s interest in ensuring the business owners of sexually oriented businesses are of legal drinking age.  Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of the Equal Protection challenge.

American Entertainers, L.L.C. v. City of Rocky Mount, 888 F.3d 707 (4th Cir. 2018).

The Ocean City boardwalk. Source: Bill Price III, from Wikimedia Commons.

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

Just in time for summer, the federal district court in Maryland has determined that the show must go on for a group of performance artists challenging an ordinance restricting public performance on the Ocean City boardwalk.  In Christ v. Ocean City, which we first reported on last year, a federal district judge concluded that Chapter 62, a new ordinance limiting performance to designated spaces at designated times, was mostly unconstitutional.

The Ocean City Boardwalk Task Force hoped Chapter 62 would survive scrutiny after a lengthy history of successful First Amendment challenges to prior regulations of speech on the boardwalk.  The Mayor and City Council charged the five-member Boardwalk Task Force to draft a new ordinance addressing the “issues that had plagued the Boardwalk” with respect to public safety, traffic congestion, and managing competing uses for limited space.  A cast of eleven street performers, including a puppeteer, stick balloon artist, magician, mime, portrait sketch artist, and musician, filed suit asserting that Chapter 62 violated the First Amendment.

Further background and details of the ordinance are detailed in our earlier post. Continue Reading A Mime, A Stick Balloon Artist, A Puppeteer, and Others Win in Ocean City Boardwalk Regulation Case

A Hustler Hollywood store in Fresno, California. Source: KSFN.

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.

HH-Indianapolis, LLC v. Consolidated City of Indianapolis and Cnty. of Marion, 889 F.3d 432 (7th Cir. 2018).

Webcast— Special Topics in Planning and the First Amendment: Signs, Adult Businesses, Religious Land Uses, and More

December 14, 2017

1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EDT

CM | 1.50 | Law

CLE 1.50 through Illinois State Bar

The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Special Topics in Planning and the First Amendment: Signs, Adult Businesses, Religious Land Uses, and More on December 14 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT. Registration for individuals is $20 for PLD members and $45 for nonmembers. Registration for two or more people at one computer is $140.

Planning and zoning in areas involving rights protected under the First Amendment, including the rights to free speech and freedom of religion, can be tricky. This webinar will review several areas in which planners interact with the First Amendment, including in the areas of signs, religious land uses, adult businesses, and even some other interesting areas such as the regulation of gun shops, tattoo parlors, public monuments, and other topics. Presenters will poll the audience at the beginning of the webinar to determine specific topics in which attendees are interested, and will tailor the presentation to attendees’ interests.

Speakers include Daniel Bolin of Ancel Glink, Brian Connolly of Otten Johnson Robinson Neff & Ragonetti, P.C., and Evan Seeman of Robinson & Cole LLP.

Register here

In July, a federal court in Wisconsin granted a preliminary injunction to Candy Lab, the maker of the popular “Pokemon Go” game, after Milwaukee County required the company to obtain a permit in order for players of its games to play in the county’s parks.

In 2016, Candy Lab released Pokemon Go, which allows players to use smartphones with location-sensing technology and “augmented reality”—whereby the phone displays an image suggesting that the image is physically present in front of the user—to play the game in a particular geolocation.  The runaway success of the game meant that many public parks became popular with players, including Milwaukee County’s Lake Park.  In summer 2016, the county observed large numbers of people playing the game in the park, and reported increases in litter, trampling of grass and flowers, players staying past the park’s closing hours. The park additionally had inadequate bathrooms, unauthorized vending, parking problems, and traffic congestion as a result of the game.  The county responded with an ordinance prohibiting virtual- and augmented-reality games in the county’s parks, except with a permit.  In 2017, Candy Lab released another augmented-reality game, Texas Rope ‘Em, but refused to obtain a permit from the county.  Candy Lab then sued the county, claiming a violation of its free speech rights. Continue Reading Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Milwaukee “Texas Rope ‘Em” Case

Twin Oaks Park, the site of the photography dispute. Source: STLtoday.com

Last year, we reported on a case in Twin Oaks, Missouri, where a local wedding photographer, Josephine Havlak, challenged a town ordinance limiting commercial activity in a public park.  Late last month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of the photographer’s motion for preliminary injunction, finding the ordinance content neutral and constitutional as applied to the photographer.

The facts of the case can be found on our post from last year.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit first evaluated whether the plaintiff’s claim was an as-applied challenge or a facial challenge to the entire ordinance.  A facial challenge can result in invalidation of the entire ordinance, while an as-applied challenge only prohibits enforcement of the ordinance against the plaintiff.  Because the photographer failed to provide any evidence that third parties would be affected in a manner different from her, the court determined that Havlak’s challenge was an as-applied challenge.  Thus, the court only analyzed the ordinance’s application to the plaintiff. Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Upholds Denial of Preliminary Injunction in Photography Case

“Sexy cops” patrolling the Las Vegas Strip. Source: loweringthebar.net.

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

Last month, street performers in the Ninth Circuit got a bigger tip than anticipated when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Nevada federal district court’s order granting summary judgment to three Las Vegas police officers, where the police officers ticketed two street performers on the famous Las Vegas Strip.  In its ruling, the appeals court found that the street performers—who dressed up as “sexy cops” to take photos with tourists—could not constitutionally be required to obtain a business license for engaging in expressive activity and association.

Michele Santopietro is an actress turned street performer who occasionally dresses up as a “sexy cop” on the Las Vegas Strip.  In March of 2011, Santopietro and her colleague Lea Patrick performed as “sexy cops” on the Strip as they were approached by three individuals indicating a desire to take a photograph.  The “sexy cops” happily obliged.  Following the photograph, Patrick persistently reminded the three individuals that the “sexy cops” work for tips.  Unbeknownst to Santopietro and Patrick, the three individuals in question were real Las Vegas Metro police officers dressed down in street clothes.  Due to Patrick’s persistence and claim that the officer entered into a “verbal contract” to give a tip, the Metro police officers arrested the two women under Clark County Code § 6.56.030 which states: “It is unlawful for any person, in the unincorporated areas of the county to operate or conduct business as a temporary store, professional promoter or peddler, solicitor or canvasser without first having procured a license for the same.” Continue Reading Las Vegas “Sexy Cops” Don’t Need a Business License, At Least For Now

Last week, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a tattoo shop owner had standing to challenge Long Beach, California’s zoning regulations.  The regulations had the effect of precluding the owner from operating his business in Long Beach.

James Real, who owns a tattoo parlor in Huntington Beach, California, sought to open a tattoo parlor in Long Beach.  Long Beach’s zoning regulations do not allow tattoo parlors in most zoning districts in the city; require a conditional use permit for operation of a tattoo parlor; may not be located less than 1,000 feet from another tattoo shop, adult entertainment use, arcade, or tavern; and tattoo parlors’ business hours are strictly limited.  Real sought approval from the city to locate in one of three locations, but the city responded by informing Real that none of the locations allowed for a tattoo parlor.

Real filed suit under the First Amendment, alleging that his tattooing was First Amendment-protected activity, and that the city’s zoning regulations were not proper time, place, and manner regulations and constituted an unconstitutional prior restraint.  The district court held that Real did not have standing to challenge the zoning regulations because he had failed to apply for a conditional use permit. Continue Reading Ninth Circuit: Tattoo Parlor Owner Has Standing to Bring First Amendment Claims

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. Continue Reading Massachusetts Court Strikes Down Local Adult Business Regulations

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. Continue Reading Secondary Effects Doctrine Lives On in Fourth Circuit Decision