Court Shows its Displeasure with Pevely

31 Dec

As I discussed here, Pevely has been fighting for two years to rid itself of an unwanted business, an adult boutique called Pure Pleasure. The city denied the company a business license and refused to hook up a water connection to the building. Pevely also passed an ordinance after the license rejection to try to keep this type of business out.  PP responded with a lawsuit. Last week, almost two years after the suit was filed, a judge in the US District Court for Eastern Missouri sided with the business, ordering the city to issue it a license.

The opinion, written by Judge Henry Autry, slams Pevely for its actions, which “exemplified the imposition of the “prior restraint” found repugnant in our constitutional form of law” (p. 30). Pevely’s generic fear of adult material, coupled with its apparent ignorance and/or disinterest in what the store actually sells, prompted this comment from the judge:

It is clear that the City’s actions are unconstitutional, particularly since they are not based on any actual showing that Plaintiff will operate any “adult use.” For the City to base its actions on the fear and innuendo it has injected into the facts by determining the Complainant’s business is somehow not to be allowed, that further supports the relief requested by Complainant. (p. 32)

His Honor continues:

Local governments cannot unilaterally attempt to prevent a business activity simply because they purport to be offended by the type of media offered therein, or are operating under the misguided belief that ridding a municipality of forms of speech deemed objectionable by some citizens is a laudable or justifiable goal. Such activities have clearly been viewed by the courts as the imposition of unconstitutional prior restraints, and have been sharply criticized in every instance where they have been reviewed. (p. 33-34)

If only this type of language was used to limit all kinds of other government actions, in addition to those actions pertaining to this case.

I get the impression that this case wasn’t even a close one. The judge sided with PP on all seven counts of the lawsuit. As I wrote earlier, Pevely seemed to pin its hopes of winning this case on technicalities related to PP’s license application. The judge clearly wasn’t interested in these arguments. The judge said the city’s opinion that PP was registered incorrectly with the state was “erroneous” (p. 18).

While some may try to suggest that Pevely fought this battle because its leaders are a bunch of prudes, I think their main concern was their image. They hated the idea of this kind of store being potentially visible from the interstate to all vehicles passing by. They didn’t want their community tarnished. So they pursued this battle, despite the flimsy legal arguments they had to work with.

And now, this is going to cost Pevely. As part of the ruling, Pevely may have to cough up legal fees and damages. PP’s lawyer estimated the amount of money could be between $150,000 and $250,000. I think that, in a case like this, a city’s insurance takes care of some, if not all, of this cost. If not, it should be irritating to the folks in Pevely, who are constantly being asked to pay more taxes and fees, to see their leaders waste this much money on such a lost cause. This might be something to bring up to Glenn “Ed” Ziegelmeyer, Marlin Hahn, and Freddie Busch, incumbent Pevely aldermen who are up for re-election in April. Who knows, maybe you will run into them among the aisles at Pure Pleasure. Shop local!

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