Tenn. Supreme Court Rules Anti-Adult Law Unconstitutional

Matt O'Conner
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Supreme Court has struck down an ordinance designed to restrict adult-oriented businesses, saying it was overly broad and vague.

For Nashville-based Entertainment Resources, the owner of Fantasy Video, the adult retailer that challenged the law, the decision came a little late because the store had long since lost its lease and gone out of business.

But the case isn’t quite over just yet because the court said in its ruling that Entertainment Resources is “entitled to a determination of damages” including lost revenue and attorneys fees that could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the city’s blunder.

When Fantasy Video opened in August 1998, its inventory was said to consist of 80 percent adult material and 20 percent general-interest videos.

Claiming that the ratio classified Fantasy Video as an adult business and, as such, was in violation of an ordinance, local police began inspecting the store and issuing citations on an almost daily basis.

In response, Entertainment Resources actively sought out guidance from city officials and implemented significant changes — including stocking 70 percent general interest videos — in an attempt to avoid the reach of the ordinance.

These efforts were ignored, and police continued to cite the store to the point of making the business unprofitable. Ultimately, the city won an injunction against the store, effectively shutting it down.

The move set off a seven-year legal battle that ended recently in the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled that since even city officials and police officers called to testify could not explain certain aspects of the law, it was unconstitutionally vague. What’s more, the court said, the city had failed to meet Fantasy Video halfway in its efforts to come into compliance with the law.

In the meantime, Fantasy Video had closed its doors and the city had replaced the ordinance with one that was more clearly worded.

“It’s been a long road of litigation,” Richard Gaines, attorney for Entertainment Resources, said. “It’s cost my clients a lot of money to fight this.”

Now, however, Entertainments Resources will have an opportunity to recoup some of that money. While the company has not yet filed a motion, Gaines said such an action is likely.

The city, meanwhile, may attempt to petition the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that scenario is less likely, given the small number of cases the court hears each year.