The city of Sandy Springs has won a decade-old federal lawsuit that alleged its code restrictions on adult businesses are unconstitutional. That means an adult bookstore and two strip clubs must move or shut down unless they file and win an appeal.
“Ten long years we had to litigate the case,” said City Attorney Wendell Willard, announcing the verdict at the March 1 Sandy Springs City Council meeting just hours after a judge delivered the “105-page decision upholding the city’s position on every point.”
The plaintiffs—the bookstore Inserection and the strip clubs Flashers and Mardi Gras—have 20 days to appeal the verdict, Willard said, adding, “I’d be very surprised if they didn’t.”
“We are still reviewing the opinion,” said Cary Wiggins, an attorney for the businesses. “We know the court put tremendous effort into the case, but, respectfully, we just view the law differently. So we’ll press on.”
The case began in 2006, when the businesses challenged new city codes suggested by Scott Bergthold, a Tennessee attorney who specializes in municipal laws cracking down on sexually oriented businesses. The codes aimed to ban the sale of booze—a major source of revenue—in strip clubs and to place strong zoning restrictions on where such businesses could operate. The businesses filed suit in federal district court, alleging that the city was violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The city tweaked its codes several times while the lawsuit was pending, including a change last year to allow adult businesses in more areas, which contributed to the length of the court battle. In her March 1 opinion, a copy of which was provided by Willard, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May ruled that the city was not violating the Constitution and that the plaintiffs essentially had no case.
The city is still facing two other lawsuits about its adult-business restrictions. A challenge from another strip club, the Main Stage/Coronet Club, is still pending in Fulton County Superior Court, Willard said. And another suit filed by Inserection challenging the city’s obscenity law, which bans the sale of sex toys, was recently won by the city, but is under appeal, Willard said.
Meanwhile, the City Council on March 1 approved another of Bergthold’s legal ideas: a code change that allows the city to seek the shutdown of massage parlors that offer illegal sexual services as “public nuisances.” The code will allow a court to order an injunction against the landlords of such properties or even on the property itself, possibly removing the zoning that allows the massage parlor use, according to Assistant City Attorney Cecil McLendon.