City Ordered to Pay Legal Fees of Adult Businesses

Matt O'Conner
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Earlier this year, Nashville won an eight-year legal battle when a federal court ruled its ordinance regulating adult entertainment businesses was constitutional, but the city still is on the hook for more than a half-million dollars in legal fees for lawyers representing the adult entertainment industry.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the city had to pay more than $536,000 to the adult industry coalition, which included retailers, strip clubs and dancers who have been fighting the law since it was enacted in 1997.

"That's the consequences of devoting the city's time, energy and resources to a matter so trivial as table dances," John Herbison, a lawyer who had worked on behalf of the adult businesses in state courts, told The Tennessean newspaper.

Lawyers for the city asserted that the ruling is unfair because they ultimately won the case and because the city was the defendant and did not initiate the action.

There have been numerous cases in which adult businesses have recovered lawyers fees after winning legal battles against local governments, but it is not common for a losing plaintiff to have its expenses covered.

However, the Circuit Court said mitigating circumstances make this case different, including the fact that the adult industry lawyers had successfully blocked enforcement of the law in several state courts.

In fact, the ordinance had not been enforced at any time since being passed in 1997, when a federal court gave law enforcement the green light. By that time, however, the law had been altered.

“Despite the somewhat contorted history of the case, the ultimate impact of the litigation initiated by [the plaintiffs] is beyond dispute: Almost continuously since the lawsuit was initiated, Metro [Nashville] has been permanently enjoined from enforcing it,” the court said in its majority decision.

Nashville’s legal director, Karl Dean, said the city may appeal the decision.

In the meantime, it is will hire an inspector to make sure the adult businesses comply with the law, which requires businesses and performers to undergo background checks and be licensed by a special board, and restricts dancers from coming within three feet of customers.