Memphis Clubs Challenge New Anti-Adult Ordinance

MEMPHIS — Seven strip clubs in Memphis have filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Shelby County seeking to block a recently passed ordinance that bans beer sales and topless dancing in the clubs, according to the Associated Press and local news source

Arguing that the entertainment offered in their establishments would be "unconstitutionally diminished" should the ordinance be enforced, the clubs also say the law is unenforceable in municipalities that have their own regulations and ordinances.

"The law is irrational, arbitrary and capricious," says the suit, which was filed by local attorneys Edward Bearman, Gary Veazey and Rex Brasher, and Cleveland attorneys J. Michael Murray and Raymond Vasvari.

The clubs represented in the suit are: Christie's Cabaret; Platinum Rose; The Gold Club; New York, New York; The Pony; the Jet Strip and Downtown Dolls.

The ordinance was modeled after Tennessee's Adult-Oriented Establishment Registration Act of 1998, which has been upheld twice in court. In addition to the banning of alcohol and nudity, it requires dancers to maintain a distance of six feet from customers while performing. Employees of any type at the clubs are also required under the ordinance to file applications with the Shelby County Clerk's Office.

These regulations, the suit contends, are meant "to destroy, and will destroy the market for live adult entertainment in the City of Memphis." Furthermore, the clubs argue that they are already regulated by the Memphis Beer Board and must meet certain requirements to maintain alcohol permits.

Unless defeated by the clubs' suit, the ordinance will take effect Apr. 29.

County Commission chairman David Lillard, upon hearing of the suit, said, "I would hope that the court would sustain the ordinance and it would be enforced. Apparently it was challenged in other jurisdictions and that was one of the reasons that the state and county felt that this ordinance form might be more defensible."

Memphis is expected to consider a new city ordinance in March. The County Commission moved forward Monday with measures to enforce the county ordinance, instituting the Shelby County Adult Oriented Establishment Board.

Commissioners appointed five members to the board, which is charged with regulating the over two dozen adult businesses in the county, including strip clubs, escort services, massage parlors, book stores and movie theaters.

The commission also approved a new zoning law that will put preventative measures in place against adult businesses being "grandfathered in" to areas near homes, churches and schools.