The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has re-affirmed that cities do have legal authority to restrict adult businesses. In the case between Jake's Bar and the city of Coates, the court ruled in favor of the city. It's a case that may influence decisions in other cities where the locaiton of strip clubs is an issue.
Coates is a small town just south of St. Paul. City officials there want to pass an ordinance that would keep nude dancers at least six feet away from customers. And the dancers at Jake's Bar wouldn't be able to take tips. This case has been in the courts for 10 years. The city of Coates has been trying to push the business out of town by placing restrictions on it.
It's a case very much like one in Rochester a decade ago. Rochester City Attorney Terry Adkins says the 8th Circuit Court ruling reaffirms the finding in his case.
"Ordinances that prohibit contact that require separation between the dancers and the patrons are again constitutional," Adkins says. "This decision simply indicates those ordinances are proper. Doesn't prohibit the activity. It just makes sure there's no contact, so the opportunity for criminal activity is reduced significantly."
The bar in Coates has featured live nude dancing since 1992. Jake's owner Rich Jacobson says the new restrictions would shut down his business.
"I've been fighting with the city for 10 years," he says. "They're trying to pass a licensing ordinance that would require the dancers to be six feet away from any customer at any time, which is in my opinion completely ridiculous...pretty much when you walked in the door you couldn't go anywhere."
The Coates City Council enacted a zoning ordinance in 1994. That law strictly limited the location of sexually-oriented businesses. They couldn't be near houses, churches, schools, bars or parks.
Rich Jacobson sued. And an initial court ruling agreed - finding the ordinance was unconstitutional. The ruling said it infringed on the First Amendment protection afforded to nude dancing.
City officials in Coates responded. They developed a new zoning ordinance and a restrictive licensing ordinance. Jacobson sued again, but the district judge upheld the city's ordinance. Then Jacobson took his case to the appellate court.
Attorney Jim Thompson represents the city of Coates. He says the bar has to move because it sits too close to residential property.
Rich Jacobson disagrees. He says he owns one piece of property and the other is vacant.
The appellate court judges also relied on studies done in a number of cities that show adult businesses have a negative affect on communities. Studies in Rochester, St. Paul, Seattle and Phoenix show what are called secondary effects. Adult businesses can reduce property values and bring more crime to an area.
Thompson says the studies helped. But in Coates there was direct evidence - a number of 911 emergency calls that were related to the strip club.
"On the Coates case, when they adopted the initial ordinance they relied on studies done by other cities," Thompson explains. "In addition to that, there was evidence that the 8th circuit relied upon (the fact that) this particular business had numerous calls associated with the business - so the court relied on both."
In Benton County, a simalar case is still pending. Benton County attorney Robert Raupp was pleased to hear the ruling from the 8th Circuit Court. He says it should help his case.
"The use of secondary effects studies from other communities - rather than having to reinvent the wheel... and require every county or city to conduct its own studies - the courts have stated repeatedly counties and cities can rely on studies done by other communities," Raupp says. "And that's what we've done and that's what the court has upheld today as appropriate means of regulating adult uses."
In Coates, the owner of Jake's Bar, Rich Jacobson, says he's not finished. He plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.More from MPR