Indianapolis’ Adult Business Ordinance Is Tossed

Sep 8, 2009 10:45 AM PST
INDIANAPOLIS — A federal appeals court, ruling that the city of Indianapolis has failed to offer evidence supporting tighter restrictions for adult video and bookstores, has struck down its six-year-old ordinance that broadens the definition of an “adult entertainment business.”

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in its decision, said that the city’s ordinance was flawed from the get-go because it mixed all adult establishments, including those that involve public booths, into one lump category.

“If there is more misconduct at a bar than at an adult emporium, how would that justify greater legal restrictions on the bookstore — much of whose stock in trade is constitutionally protected in a way that beer and liquor are not,” the court said in its ruling. “Indianapolis has approached this case by assuming that any empirical study of morals offenses near any kind of adult establishment in any city justifies every possible kind of legal restriction in every city.”

The 7th Circuit added that Indianapolis city leaders failed to offer "an iota of evidence" supporting stricter regulations on adult book and video stores.

The six-year-old ordinance expanded the definition of an adult business to include any retailer that devotes at least 25 percent of its space or inventory to adult books, magazines, films and sex toys. The definition also covered retailers who earned at least 25 percent of their sales from adult items. The threshold was 50 percent before 2003.

The ordinance also made it necessary for adult entertainment businesses to be permitted for a license and imposed rules on lighting and cleanliness.

Adult entertainment businesses also were ordered closed on Sundays and after midnight on all other nights.

Four of those businesses in the city were thrown into that category, later claiming the ordinance violated their constitutional rights.

The city justified its restrictions on the ground that they can reduce prostitution, stealing, public masturbation and other crimes associated with adult businesses.

But the 7th Circuit didn’t buy Indianapolis’ argument, particularly since the city’s only evidence about the four plaintiffs is that during 2002 the police made 41 arrests for “public” masturbation at Annex Books, the only plaintiff that offers private booths. The court said masturbation was “public” in the sense that officers could see what customers were doing inside the booths.

“It is hard to grasp how misdemeanors committed in single-person booths justify the regulation of book and video retailers that lack such booths,” the court said. “Indeed, we do not know when the arrests occurred … [H]ow does it compare with arrests for drunkenness or public urination in or near taverns, which in Indianapolis can be open on Sunday and well after midnight?"

The case is Annex Books Inc. vs. City of Indianapolis, No. 05-1926.

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