427 U.S. 50 (1976), 75-312, Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 75-312
Citation:427 U.S. 50, 96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310
Party Name:Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc.
Case Date:June 24, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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427 U.S. 50 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310

Young

v.

American Mini Theatres, Inc.

No. 75-312

United States Supreme Court

June 24, 1976

Argued March 24, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent operators of two adult motion picture theaters brought this action against petitioner city officials for injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment of unconstitutionality regarding two 1972 Detroit zoning ordinances that amended an "Anti-Skid Row Ordinance" adopted 10 years earlier. The 1972 ordinances provide that an adult theater may not (apart from a special waiver) be located within 1,000 feet of any two other "regulated uses" or within 500 feet of a residential area. The term "regulated uses" applies to 10 different kinds of establishments in addition to adult theaters, including adult book stores, cabarets, bars, taxi dance halls, and hotels. If the theater is used to present

material distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on matter depicting . . . "specified Sexual Activities" or "specified Anatomical Areas,"

it is an "adult" establishment. The District Court upheld the ordinances, and granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the ordinances constituted [96 S.Ct. 2443] a prior restraint on constitutionally protected communication and violated equal protection. Respondents, in addition to asserting the correctness of that court's ruling with respect to those constitutional issues, contend that the ordinances are void for vagueness. While not attacking the specificity of the definitions of sexual activities or anatomical areas, respondents maintain (1) that they cannot determine how much of the described activity may be permissible before an exhibition is "characterized by an emphasis" on such matter, and (2) that the ordinances do not specify adequate procedures or standards for obtaining a waiver of the 1,000-foot restriction.

Held:

1. The ordinances, as applied to these respondents, do not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on the ground of vagueness. Pp. 58-61.

(a) Neither of the asserted elements of vagueness has affected these respondents, both of which propose to offer adult fare on a regular basis and allege no ground for claiming or anticipating any waiver of the 1,000-foot restriction. Pp. 58-59.

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(b) The ordinances will have no demonstrably significant effect on the exhibition of films protected by the First Amendment. To the extent that any area of doubt exists as to the amount of sexually explicit activity that may be portrayed before material can be said to be "characterized by an emphasis" on such matter, there is no reason why the ordinances are not "readily subject to a narrowing construction by the state courts." This would therefore be an inappropriate case to apply the principle urged by respondents that they be permitted to challenge the ordinances not because their own rights of free expression are violated, but because of the assumption that the ordinances' very existence may cause others not before the court to refrain from constitutionally protected speech or expression. Pp. 59-61.

2. The ordinances are not invalid under the First Amendment as prior restraints on protected communication because of the licensing or zoning requirements. Though adult films may be exhibited commercially only in licensed theaters, that is also true of all films. That the place where films may be exhibited is regulated does not violate free expression, the city's interest in planning and regulating the use of property for commercial purposes being clearly adequate to support the locational restriction. Pp. 62-63.

518 F.2d 1014, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL (except for Part III), and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 73. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 84. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 88.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court. *

Zoning ordinances adopted by the city of Detroit differentiate between motion picture theaters which exhibit sexually explicit "adult" movies and those which do not. The principal question presented by this case is whether that statutory classification is unconstitutional because it is based on the content of communication protected by the First Amendment.1

Effective November 2, 1972, Detroit adopted the ordinances challenged in this litigation. Instead of concentrating "adult" theaters in limited zones, these ordinances require that such theaters be dispersed. Specifically, an adult theater may not be located within 1,000 feet of any two other [96 S.Ct. 2444] "regulated uses" or within 500 feet of a residential area.2 The term "regulated uses" includes 10 different kinds of establishments in addition to adult theaters.3

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The classification of a theater as "adult" is expressly predicated on the character of the motion pictures which it exhibits. If the theater is used to present

material distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on matter depicting, describing or relating to "specified Sexual Activities" or "specified Anatomical Areas,"4

it is an adult establishment.5

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The 1972 ordinances were amendments to an "Anti-Skid Row Ordinance" which had been adopted 10 years earlier. At that time, the Detroit Common Council made a finding that some uses of property are especially injurious to a neighborhood when they are concentrated in limited areas.6 The decision to add adult motion picture theaters and adult book stores to the list of businesses which, apart from a special waiver,7 [96 S.Ct. 2445] could not be located within 1,000 feet of two other "regulated uses," was, in part, a response to the significant growth in the number

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of such establishments.8 In the opinion of urban planners and real estate experts who supported the ordinances, the location of several such businesses in the same neighborhood tends to attract an undesirable quantity and quality of transients, adversely affects property values, causes an increase in crime, especially prostitution, and encourages residents and businesses to move elsewhere.

Respondents are the operators of two adult motion picture theaters. One, the Nortown, was an established theater which began to exhibit adult films in March, 1973. The other, the Pussy Cat, was a corner gas station which was converted into a "mini theater," but denied a certificate of occupancy because of its plan to exhibit adult films. Both theaters were located within 1,000 feet of two other regulated uses, and the Pussy Cat was less than 500 feet from a residential area. The respondents brought two separate actions against appropriate city officials, seeking a declaratory judgment that the ordinances were unconstitutional and an injunction against their enforcement. Federal jurisdiction was properly invoked,9 and the two cases were consolidated for decision.10

The District Court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. On the basis of the reasons stated

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by the city for adopting the ordinances, the court concluded that they represented a rational attempt to preserve the city's neighborhoods.11 The court analyzed and rejected respondents' argument that the definition and waiver provisions in the ordinances were impermissibly vague; it held that the disparate treatment of adult theaters and other theaters was justified by a compelling state interest, and therefore did not violate the Equal Protection Clause;12 and, finally, it concluded that the [96 S.Ct. 2446] regulation of the places where adult films could be shown did not violate the First Amendment.13

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The Court of Appeals reversed. American Mini Theatres, Inc. v. Gribbs, 518 F.2d 1014 (CA6 1975). The majority opinion concluded that the ordinances imposed a prior restraint on constitutionally protected communication, and therefore "merely establishing that they were designed to serve a compelling public interest" provided an insufficient justification for a classification of motion picture theaters on the basis of the content of the materials they purvey to the public.14 Relying primarily on Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, the court held the ordinance invalid under the Equal Protection Clause. Judge Celebrezze, in dissent, expressed

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the opinion that the ordinance was a valid "`time, place and manner' regulation," rather than a regulation of speech on the basis of its content.15

Because of the importance of the decision, we granted certiorari, 423 U.S. 911.

As they did in the District Court, respondents contend (1) that the ordinances are so vague that they violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) that they are invalid under the First Amendment as prior restraints on protected communication; and (3) that the classification of theaters on the basis of the content of their exhibitions violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We consider their arguments in that order.

I

There are two parts to respondents' claim that the ordinances are too vague. They do not attack the specificity of the definition of "Specified Sexual Activities" or "Specified Anatomical Areas." They argue, however, that they cannot determine how much of the described activity may be permissible before the exhibition is "characterized by an emphasis" on such matter. In addition, they argue that the ordinances are vague because they do not specify adequate procedures or standards for obtaining a waiver of the 1,000-foot restriction.

We find it unnecessary to consider the validity of...

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