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Mass. Strip Club Can Buck Regulations Thanks to Federal Ruling

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A strip club in Massachusetts can operate with fewer restrictions thanks to a recent federal appellate court's ruling.

Showtime Entertainment LLC sued the town of Mendon because of the hamlet's "maze of regulations" which made it near impossible to establish or operate an adult entertainment business there. Mendon's bylaws focused specifically on adult entertainment businesses like Showtime, requiring them to be within a size and height limit, mandating off-duty policemen to patrol the business, and forbidding alcohol.

Why did the court rule for Showtime over Mendon's rules?

Zoning Laws and Strip Clubs

The current trend in zoning laws is largely due to a nearly 30-year-old Supreme Court case, Renton v. Playtime Theaters, Inc. In Renton, the Supreme Court looked at a small town in Washington state (Renton) enforcing city ordinances which prohibited adult motion picture theaters (read: porno theaters) within 1,000 feet of houses, apartments, schools, parks, or churches.

The High Court ruled that these zoning restrictions could be constitutional if they were based on the "secondary effects" of the adult businesses, and not regulating what went on inside.

Mendon Bylaws Were Underinclusive

Enter Mendon and Showtime. They have a very similar situation to the facts in Renton, but the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mendon's bylaws were unconstitutional. Why?

Well, despite whether Mendon changed its laws specifically to target Showtime, or whether the laws just happened to be a content-neutral restriction, Mendon's reasoning for the bylaws fell flat. Even when the 1st Circuit applied intermediate scrutiny, the laws couldn't prove to be inclusive enough to be constitutional. For example, Mendon claimed its laws were intended to maintain Mendon's "small town" aesthetic and reduce traffic, yet Showtime's potential neighbors were an existing 700-car drive-in movie theater and a 10,000-square-foot nightclub.

In order to have laws regulate "secondary effects" like in Renton, they must actually be substantially related to the posed purpose.

No Booze in Adult Clubs? Maybe

Mendon also prevented Showtime from selling alcohol in its adult entertainment establishment, which Showtime argued was a violation of the Massachusetts constitution. The 1st Circuit sent this certified question to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the state's highest court), which will give the federal court its opinion on how the state's constitution is interpreted with regard to alcohol sales in adult entertainment venues.

Depending on its answer, Showtime's future strip club may or may not serve two-for-one shots on ladies night.

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