Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Adult establishment case falls on standing and mootness grounds

This case had a lot of promise: an adult-oriented establishment suing a Connecticut municipality under the First Amendment. It's been a few years since the Court of Appeals addressed when towns and villages can regulate places like this. But this case ends with a dud because the Court says the plaintiff lacks standing to bring the claim.

The case is Keepers, Inc. v. City of Milford, decided on November 20. The City passed a law that said these adult establishments have to publicly identify anyone who has an "influential interest" in the management or control of the adult-oriented establishment. As the Second Circuit puts it, "the 2007 ordinance required SOBs to publicly post the names of operators, managers, officers, and anyone owning at least thirty percent of the business." SOBs is shorthand for "sexually oriented businesses." The lawsuit alleges that the ordinance violates the right to anonymity enjoyed by the business owners, employees and others. It also alleges that the ordinance is too vague. The Second Circuit (Cabranes, Chin and Raggi) says the law is actually quite clear as to what it requires of these business owners, so that challenge fails.The Court then turns to the standing question.

While the plaintiff says the public posting requirement violates the First Amendment, there is no standing to bring this action. Standing takes the fun out of constitutional litigation. A great case in theory cannot be brought because the plaintiff does not have any real stake in the outcome of the case. That is what happened here. While Keepers brings the case, it has not shown why its owners and officers could not have filed the case. While these people are claiming the right to be anonymous, by the way, they have publicly identified themselves in the course of this litigation, and there is no proof they would suffer harassment or some other hardship in suing on their own behalf.

There is also no standing because there is no "injury-in-fact" caused by the law. At no point in this case has Keepers shown how "the alleged infringement of its officers' and owners' anonymity rights has caused it any harm." The case is also moot. While the law requires an SOB to publicly identify any passive owners of the business, there is no evidence that these people exist. A single owner runs Keepers. While there may have been a case when the case was filed, at this point, no one is affected by the challenged ordinance. There is nothing worth suing over.

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