ATLANTIC CITY — New Jersey authorities are not civilly liable for an employee's decision to remove strip club brochures from Garden State Parkway service plazas, a federal judge ruled last week.
The operators of Bare Exposure sued defendants South Jersey Transportation Authority, New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the private service plaza operator HMS Toll Roads in 2012 on free speech and other grounds.
Bare Exposure said the defendants rejected its brochures, which depict a woman's face and the text "Bare Exposure ... Atlantic City's Only All Nude Entertainment."
A manager with HMS, which operates the plazas, ordered the brochures removed because he felt patrons would find them offensive.
The manager, Greg Dion, said he did not order the brochures removed for commercial reasons but admitted it could affect the club’s business.
Bare Exposure's amended complaint asserted a First Amendment violation and challenge to code provisions; 14th Amendment due process and equal protection violations; and speech, association, due process and equal protection violations of the New Jersey’s Constitution.
Bare Exposure moved to restrain the defendants from removing the brochures, and the defendants moved for summary judgment.
But U.S District Judge Renee Marie Bumb found that Dion acted on his own authority and not under the state's direction when she granted the defendants' request for a summary judgment.
"The undisputed facts make clear that Mr. Dion's decision to have the brochures removed was his and his alone; he did not consult with or receive any direction from the authorities," the judge said. "Moreover, he did not review or consider any provisions of the New Jersey Administrative Code prior to making his decision, but instead, he believed he was exercising Host's authority under the CTM agreement."
Bumb also tossed the claim that political pamphlets in the plazas support a state action.
"Plaintiff has presented no evidence beyond mere argument that such communications were 'done in such a manner that a reasonable patron would tend to assume that all the messages being presented were those of the respective authorities,'" Bumb wrote. "Such conclusory assertions are insufficient to survive summary judgment."