Tenn. Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Strip Club

Tod Hunter
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Tennessee Court of Appeals Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling in favor of a strip club forced to close by local officials, later reopened under court order.

The ruling involved the "New York, New York" club near Memphis International Airport. Local government authorities claimed that the property couldn't reopen as a strip club because the owner, Steve Cooper, had closed it for remodeling and waited longer than a year to reopen it.

City codes would have allowed the strip club to be grandfathered into restrictions on such clubs in the area had Cooper reopened it sooner, attorneys for the city, county and code enforcement office contended.

A 2006 ruling by Circuit Court Judge Donna Fields said that the governments had caused the delay in reopening by revoking the permits Cooper needed to reopen. This ruling was upheld by the appeals court.

New York, New York closed in late 2002 for remodeling and remained closed because of the permits dispute until Fields' ruling.

"[The] club was closed for over two years because local authorities refused to grant the required permits, and their refusal stemmed from the adult-oriented use of the premises," Appeals Court Judge Holly M. Kirby wrote. "If this were deemed a discontinuance or an abandonment, this would in fact undermine the ordinances, allowing prior nonconforming uses under certain circumstances, because local authorities could force an abandonment by denying required permits or instituting legal action, even for spurious reasons."

Attorneys for the city and county told reporters they were still reviewing the ruling Tuesday evening.

Cooper is among several strip club owners suing the city and county in federal court over the county's recently enacted strip club ordinance, which forbids the sale or consumption of beer in the clubs and requires a permit system and criminal background checks to regulate workers and owners. The ordinance applies to the city of Memphis — unless or until the city enacts its own ordinance.