Two men were arrested for disorderly conduct in an anti-abortion demonstration in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In addition to bringing a Fourth Amendment claim against the Little Rock Police Department, the men challenged the Arkansas disorderly conduct statute and the city’s permit requirement as violations of their free speech rights under the First Amendment.  A federal district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed on appeal earlier this month.

Arkansas’s criminal code contains several actions that constitute disorderly conduct, including:  fighting; in violent, threatening, or tumultuous behavior; unreasonable or excessive noise; the use of “abusive or obscene language, or mak[ing] an obscene gesture, in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response; disruption or disturbance of meetings or gatherings; obstructing traffic; and other actions.  The plaintiffs argued that the statute was vague and overbroad.  The appeals court found that the statute was not vague, primarily because it contained a mens rea requirement—that is, that the violator have a particular intent to engage in disorderly conduct.  The court used similar logic in upholding the statute against the plaintiffs’ overbreadth claim, finding that the statute was content neutral and that its objective mens rea requirement precluded an overbreadth challenge. Continue Reading Arkansas Abortion Protesters Lose Appeal in Vagueness, Overbreadth, and Prior Restraint Case

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

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri recently sided with a St. Louis-area locality of 1,500 best known as the home of the events behind The Exorcist, upholding its sign code against a motion for preliminary injunction.  The principle facts were these: the City of Bel-Nor code allows one double-faced stake-mounted yard sign per improved parcel.  Plaintiff Lawrence Willson placed three such signs in his yard, a window sign near his front door asking first responders to rescue his pets, and an “Irish for a Day” flag in his garden.  Bel-Nor cited him for violating the one-sign-per-yard ordinance, but did not take issue with the window sign or garden flag, although they too likely violated its sign code.

Lawrence, represented by the ACLU, sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin Bel-Nor from enforcing its entire sign code ordinance, arguing that the ordinance violated his Constitutional right to Free Speech.  The district court rejected the request with a rote application of First Amendment principles. Continue Reading Tiny Enclave’s One-Sign Rule Survives Initial Constitutional Challenge

The Great Hall of the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport. Source: Denver Post.

Last week, a federal district judge in Colorado partially granted a motion for preliminary injunction filed by two individuals who sought to protest President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  The court found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim, which was filed in connection with demonstrations held at Denver International Airport immediately following the order.

Denver regulates First Amendment activities at its airport via a municipal regulation that requires demonstrators to first obtain a permit, which must be applied for no more than 30 and no less than seven days before the proposed activity.  In addition, any signs carried by protestors may not exceed one square foot, and picketing by more than two persons on items unrelated to a labor dispute is generally prohibited throughout the airport.  The chief executive officer of the airport has the discretion under the regulation to determine where protest activity may occur. Continue Reading Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Trump Immigration Ban Protest Case

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The Hitching Post in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  

In an opinion issued last week, a federal district court in Idaho found that a wedding services business, Hitching Post, which refused to officiate same-sex marriages on religious grounds, did not have standing to challenge an ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Continue Reading Wedding Business Loses First Amendment Challenge to Local Antidiscrimination Law

The Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse plaza should be open to expressive activity, at least according to the federal district court in Colorado. Source: Glass Magazine.

In a case close to home (for us, at least), a group of citizen pamphleteers sued the City and County of Denver and the Colorado Second Judicial District court, claiming that prohibitions on expressive activity in the plaza outside of Denver’s Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse violated the First Amendment. Continue Reading Federal Court Finds Plaintiffs Likely to Prevail in Denver Courthouse Free Speech Case

The Village of Downers Grove, Illinois survived federal and state law challenges to its sign code after a federal district court found the code to be content neutral under the standard articulated in the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  Plaintiff Robert Peterson owns a business called Leibundguth Storage & Van Service, Inc., which painted large signs advertising its business on the walls of its brick building in Downers Grove.  The village’s sign ordinance banned painted wall signs and limited the size and number of wall signs.  Peterson argued that the sign code was content based because it exempted government signs, railroad signs, address signs, noncommercial flags, real estate signs, and decorations, among other sign types, from the village’s permitting requirement.   Continue Reading Illinois Village Survives Sign Code Challenge

Nightclub operators challenged Wickliffe, Ohio’s nightclub ordinance, which required permits for the operation of for-profit nightclubs, defined by the ordinance as places “to engage in social activities such as dancing; the enjoyment of live or prerecorded music; the serving of food and beverages; all of which are provided for a consideration that may be included in a cover charge or included in the price of the food and beverage.”  The nightclub operators claimed that the ordinance limited the right to assembly.  The court held that the permitting of businesses is not a regulation of expression or assembly, even though some First Amendment-protected activity might be implicated in an attenuated manner.  The court also found that the permitting requirement was not overbroad because it did not reach a substantial amount of protected expression or other protected conduct.

Miller v. City of Wickliffe, No. 1:12-CV1248, slip op., 2015 WL 9304665 (N.D. Ohio Dec. 21, 2015)