Lawyers for the Pink Pony strip club say their fight with the city of Brookhaven is far from over.
The club is appealing a DeKalb judge’s recent decision to dismiss its lawsuit against the city. Alan Begner, an attorney representing the Pink Pony, confirmed that the appeal was filed Dec. 27 in the Georgia Supreme Court.
“I believe that the ruling will be reversed,” Begner said.
On Dec. 24, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson granted Brookhaven’s motion to dismiss the Pink Pony’s lawsuit, claiming the suit had no legal merit.
In May, the owners of the Pink Pony sued the city over its sexually-oriented business ordinance, which prohibits nude dancing and the sale of alcohol, claiming the ordinance would put the club out of business.
Begner, who has defended other adult businesses in similar cases around the metro Atlanta area, said he’s never seen a judge dismiss a lawsuit before letting it go to trial.
“It’s a huge deal, because if it stands, it will take away the right to sue for constitutional challenges,” Begner said. “I really was surprised by this. I can’t imagine how the court could do this.”
Begner thinks it’s likely the appeal will be successful because the Pink Pony did not have a chance to argue its case.
“I don’t think it will stand. I think the chances are the case will be sent back,” Begner said.
Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis said it’s fairly rare in a civil case for a lawsuit to be dismissed.
“It was a pretty strong ruling and as a lawyer, I don’t see much wiggle room for a court of appeals to overturn it,” Davis said.
Davis said the dismissal shows the Brookhaven City Council adopted a strong sexually oriented business ordinance. “It was a well-reasoned and written argument on our counsel’s behalf that carried the day,” he said.
Before the ruling, the city chose not to enforce the sexually oriented business ordinance until after a ruling was reached in the lawsuit. Enforcement may be delayed again now that the club has filed an appeal.
Davis said the city and its attorneys have not yet decided how to proceed.
The appeal, he said, “will be a part of any discussion, whether we start enforcement in two weeks or reach out to the Pink Pony, everything will be on the table,” Davis said.
Begner said he hopes the city will allow the Pony to continue operating in its current format until the case is resolved. He said if the city begins enforcing the new ordinance and the court sides with the Pink Pony, the city will be responsible for paying damages.
“If they should put us out of business by force, it’ll probably be about 10 months before the Supreme Court of Georgia will rule on the case…. Then the amount of damages would be $20 million or more,” Begner said.
Begner said he also represents strip clubs in Sandy Springs, which have been in litigation with the city for nearly a decade. “Sandy Springs agreed to that, smartly on their behalf, because they’re in their eighth year,” Begner said. “If they had shut us down, the damages would be astronomical.”
Aubrey Villines, another lawyer for the Pink Pony, said the judge’s ruling doesn’t conclude the case.
“It’s a bump in the road – a bump in the road we didn’t want,” Villines said. “It’s a battle, it’s just a stage, and we move forward from here.”
Villines said ideally, officials from Brookhaven and the Pink Pony could negotiate an agreement out of court. “The courts will give a decision, but it ultimately has to be resolved politically by City Council,” Villines said. “City Council has to decide when to listen to residents and do what residents want, which is leave the Pink Pony alone.”
It’s likely that the deep-pocketed business will exhaust all legal avenues to keep its doors open.
“We’re not going away,” Villines said.