Law School Case Brief
City of L.A. v. Alameda Books - 535 U.S. 425, 122 S. Ct. 1728 (2002)
Municipalities will, in general, have greater experience with and understanding of the secondary effects that follow certain protected speech than will the courts. For this reason, cases require only that municipalities rely upon evidence that is reasonably believed to be relevant to the secondary effects that they seek to address.
Based on its 1977 study concluding that concentrations of adult entertainment establishments were associated with higher crime rates in surrounding communities, petitioner the City of Los Angeles, California enacted Los Angeles Municipal Code § 12.70(C) (1978), an ordinance which prohibited such enterprises within 1,000 feet of each other or within 500 feet of a religious institution, school, or public park. Because the ordinance's method of calculating distances created a loophole permitting the concentration of multiple adult enterprises in a single structure, the City later amended the ordinance to prohibit "more than one adult entertainment business in the same building." Respondents, two adult establishments that openly operated combined bookstores/video arcades in violation of § 12.70(C), as amended, sued under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the ordinance, on its face, violated the First Amendment. Finding that the ordinance was not a content-neutral regulation of speech, the federal district court reasoned that neither the 1977 study nor a report cited in Hart Book Stores v. Edmisten, a Fourth Circuit case upholding a similar statute, supported a reasonable belief that multiple-use adult establishments produce the secondary effects the city asserted as content-neutral justifications for its prohibition. Subjecting § 12.70(C) to strict scrutiny, the court granted respondents summary judgment because it felt the City had not offered evidence demonstrating that its prohibition was necessary to serve a compelling government interest. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, but on the different ground that, even if the ordinance were content neutral, the City failed to present evidence upon which it could reasonably rely to demonstrate that its regulation of multiple-use establishments was designed to serve its substantial interest in reducing crime. The appellate court therefore held the ordinance invalid under Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U.S. 41. The United States Supreme Court granted the City's petition for certiorari review.
Did the City of Los Angeles, California offer sufficient evidence to demonstrate that its prohibition of adult entertainment establishments was necessary to serve a compelling government interest?
The United States Supreme Court held the City could reasonably rely on a study it conducted some years before enacting the ordinance to demonstrate that its ban on multiple-use adult establishments served its interest in reducing crime. Reducing crime was a substantial government interest. The study's conclusions as to crime patterns could reasonably be relied upon to overcome summary judgment against the City. It was consistent with the study's findings, and thus reasonable, for the City to suppose that a concentration of adult establishments was correlated with high crime rates because a concentration of operations in one locale would draw more adult consumers to the neighborhood, and a high density of such consumers either attracted or generated criminal activity. According to the Court, it was rational for the City to infer that reducing the concentration of adult operations in a neighborhood, whether within separate establishments or in one large establishment, would reduce crime, and Section 12.70(C) was designed to promote the City's interest in reducing crime. Hence, the judgment of the Ninth Circuit was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
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