New York City

Federal Judge Blocks NYC From Enforcing Controversial Strip Club Rules

The case has been winding its way through the courts for 17 years

What to Know

  • A federal judge blocked the city from enforcing rules enacted in 2001 restricting strip clubs and adult bookstores
  • The judge ruled that the city's zoning regulations infringed on the clubs' free-speech rights and left them without viable alternatives
  • The clubs and the city have been in continuous litigation since 2002 over the rules, which have never been enforced

A federal judge temporarily blocked New York City from enforcing zoning rules for strip clubs and adult bookstores, the latest twist in litigation that has dragged on for decades.

Federal Judge William Pauley granted a preliminary injunction to a series of plaintiffs who operate clubs like Lace and Satin Dolls and bookstores like The Erotica. They are pursuing litigation against the city over 2001 amendments to the regulations that effectively restrict how their facilities are configured and where they can operate.

Those 2001 amendments have never been enforced, per an agreement between the sides in the case, but they have been litigated for the better part of 17 years. Once state litigation ended in the city’s favor, the plaintiffs re-opened their federal case.

"The Court determines that the balance of hardships weigh in favor of Plaintiffs and the issuance of preliminary injunctive relief would not disservice the public interest," Pauley wrote in a 69-page ruling. 

Pauley hung his ruling, in large part, on the clubs' and bookstores' First Amendment rights of free speech, and whether the city regulations left sufficient "reasonable alternative channels" for their communication -- in other words, whether there were enough places they could move their businesses to comply with the zoning rules. 

"(T)his Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently demonstrated at this stage that the enforcement of the 2001 Amendments will deny them adequate alternative channels to offer their adult expression," Pauley said.

The judge ordered a status conference on Oct. 31 to determine how to proceed. 

“This ruling, as the Court reiterated, says nothing about whether the adult-only businesses will succeed on the merits of their claims.  In fact, the state Court of Appeals ruled for the City in a similar challenge and upheld the zoning regulations at issue here," the city's Law Department said in a statement. 

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