U.S. Justices Won't Hear Strip Club Tax Case

Nov 10, 2013 6:00 AM PST

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear a case that could have settled whether dancing in strip clubs is art.

Without comment last month, U.S. justices passed on a New York case where the state's highest court earlier ruled, 4-3, that Latham, N.Y.'s Nite Moves strip club didn’t qualify for the state’s tax exemption for “dramatic or musical arts performances” because performances at the club didn't fall in line with the Legislature's "evident purpose" of the tax break.

The majority of the New York appellate court said that "it is not irrational for the [state] Tax Tribunal to decline to extend a tax exemption to every act that declares itself a dance performance" and that other forms of entertainment, such as baseball games, carnivals, ice shows and animal acts, are not exempt from taxes in New York.

But one judge, in a sharply worded dissent to the state's top court, wrote that it doesn't matter if the dance was artistic or crude, boring or erotic. Under New York’s tax law, a dance is a dance, Judge Robert Smith wrote.

"Like the majority and the Tribunal, I find this particular form of dance unedifying — indeed, I am stuffy enough to find it distasteful," Smith wrote. "Perhaps for similar reasons, I do not read Hustler magazine; I would rather read the New Yorker. I would be appalled, however, if the state were to exact from Hustler a tax that the New Yorker did not have to pay, on the ground that what appears in Hustler is insufficiently 'cultural and artistic.'

"That sort of discrimination on the basis of content would surely be unconstitutional. It is not clear to me why the discrimination that the majority approves in this case stands on any firmer constitutional footing."

U.S. justices, however, declined to hear the case last month.

"We did our very, very best," Nite Moves attorney W. Andrew McCullough told the Albany Times Union. "But getting the attention of the Supreme Court in a situation like that is just [difficult]."

New York's Division of Taxation, following an audit in 2005, said the admission charge and fees for private dances at Nite Moves should be subject to sales tax.

According to a court filing, Nite Moves owed $129,000 in taxes. A majority of the all-nude club’s revenue came from the $15 it collected on $25 private dances, with the balance going to the dancer. Nite Moves charged $10 for admission.

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