455 U.S. 283 (1982), 80-1577, City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 80-1577
Citation:455 U.S. 283, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152
Party Name:City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc.
Case Date:February 23, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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455 U.S. 283 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152

City of Mesquite

v.

Aladdin's Castle, Inc.

No. 80-1577

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1982

Argued November 10, 1981

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 6 of appellant Texas city's licensing ordinance governing coin-operated amusement establishments directs the Chief of Police to consider whether a license applicant has any "connections with criminal elements." After receiving recommendations from the Chief of Police, the Chief Building Inspector, and the City Planner, the City Manager decides whether to grant a license. If he denies the license, the applicant may appeal to the City Council. If the City Manager denied the application because of the Chief of Police's adverse recommendation as to the applicant's character, the applicant must show to the City Council that he or it is of good character. Section 5 of the ordinance prohibits a licensee from allowing children under 17 years of age to operate amusement devices unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. After appellant had been ordered in Texas state court proceedings to issue appellee amusement center operator a license (its license application having been initially denied under the predecessor to § 6), and after appellant had repealed appellee's exemption from the predecessor to § 5, appellee brought suit in Federal District Court, praying for an injunction against enforcement of the ordinance. The District Court held that § 6 was unconstitutionally vague, but upheld § 5. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to § 6, basing [102 S.Ct. 1072] its holding solely on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but reversed as to § 5, basing its holding on the Texas Constitution, as well as on the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held:

1. The fact that the phrase "connections with criminal elements" was eliminated from the ordinance while the case was pending in the Court of Appeals does not render the case moot. A defendant's voluntary cessation of a challenged practice does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice. Here, appellant's repeal of the objectionable language would not preclude it from reenacting the same provision if the District Court's judgment were vacated. Pp. 288-289.

2. The Court of Appeals erred in holding that § 6 is unconstitutionally vague. It is clear, from the procedure to be followed when an application for a license is denied by the City Manager based on the Chief of Police's recommendation, that the phrase "connections with criminal elements" is

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not the standard for approval or disapproval of the application. Rather, the applicant's possible connection with criminal elements is merely a subject that § 6 directs the Chief of Police to investigate before he makes a recommendation to the City Manager. The Federal Constitution does not preclude a city from giving vague or ambiguous directions to officials who are authorized to make investigations and recommendations. Pp. 289-291.

3. Because Congress has limited this Court's jurisdiction to review questions of state law, and because there is ambiguity in the Court of Appeals' holding as to § 5, a remand for clarification of that holding is necessary. This Court will not decide the federal constitutional question connected with § 5 where (a) the relevant language of the Texas constitutional provisions is different from, and arguably significantly broader than, the language of the corresponding federal provisions; (b) it is unclear whether this Court would apply, as a matter of federal law, the same standard applied as a matter of state law by the Court of Appeals in reviewing § 5; and (c) it is this Court's policy to avoid unnecessary adjudication of federal constitutional questions, there being no need for decision of the federal issue here if Texas law provides independent support for the Court of Appeals' judgment. Pp. 291-295.

630 F.2d 1029, reversed in part and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., post, p. 296, and POWELL, J., post, p. 297, filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared unconstitutional two sections of a licensing ordinance

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governing coin-operated amusement establishments in the city of Mesquite, Texas.1 Section 6 of Ordinance 1353, which directs the Chief of Police to consider whether a license applicant has any "connections with criminal elements,"2 was

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held to be unconstitutionally [102 S.Ct. 1073] vague. Section 5, which prohibits a licensee from allowing children under 17 years of age to operate the amusement devices unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian,3 was held to be without a rational basis. The first holding rests solely on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals stated that its second holding rested on two provisions of the Texas Constitution, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Because Congress has limited our jurisdiction to review questions of state law, and because there is ambiguity in the Court of Appeals' second holding, we conclude that a remand for clarification of that holding is necessary. There is, however, no impediment to our review of the first holding.

On April 5, 1976, to accommodate the proposal of Aladdin's Castle, Inc. (Aladdin), to open an amusement center in a shopping mall, the city exempted from the prohibition against operation of amusement devices by unattended children certain amusement centers, the features of which were defined in terms of Aladdin's rules, as long as children under the age of seven were accompanied by an adult.4 Thereafter, Aladdin entered into a long-term lease and made other arrangements to open a center in the mall. In August, however,

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its application for a license was refused because the Chief of Police had concluded that Aladdin's parent corporation was connected with criminal elements. Aladdin then brought suit in a Texas state court and obtained an injunction requiring the city to issue it a license forthwith. The Texas court found that neither Aladdin nor its parent corporation had any connection with criminal elements, and that the vagueness in the ordinance contravened both the Texas and the Federal Constitutions.5

[102 S.Ct. 1074] On February 7, 1977, less than a month after the city had complied with the state court injunction by issuing the license to Aladdin, the city adopted a new ordinance repealing Aladdin's exemption, thereby reinstating the 17-year age requirement, and defining the term "connections with criminal elements" in some detail.6 Aladdin then commenced this action

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in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, praying for an injunction against enforcement of the new ordinance. After a trial, the District Court held that the language "connections with criminal elements," even as defined, was unconstitutionally vague, but the District Court upheld the age restriction in the ordinance.7 As already noted, the Court of Appeals affirmed the former holding and reversed the latter.

Invoking our appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1254(2), the city now asks us to reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. After we noted probable jurisdiction, 451 U.S. 981, Aladdin advised us that the ordinance reviewed by the Court of Appeals had been further amended in December, 1977, by eliminating the phrase "connections with criminal elements." The age restriction, however, was retained.8

I

A question of mootness is raised by the revision of the ordinance that became effective while the case was pending in the Court of Appeals. When that court decided that the term "connections with criminal elements" was unconstitutionally vague, that language was no longer a part of the ordinance. Arguably, if the court had been fully advised, it would have regarded the vagueness issue as moot.9 It is clear to us, however, that it was under no duty to do so.

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It is well settled that a defendant's voluntary cessation of a challenged practice does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice. Such abandonment is an important factor bearing on the question whether a court should exercise its power to enjoin the defendant from renewing the practice, but that is a matter relating to the exercise, rather than the existence, of judicial power.10 In this case, the city's repeal [102 S.Ct. 1075] of the objectionable language would not preclude it from reenacting precisely the same provision if the District Court's judgment were vacated.11 The city followed that course with respect to the age restriction, which was first reduced for Aladdin from 17 to 7 and then, in obvious response to the state court's judgment, the exemption was eliminated. There is no certainty that a similar course would not be pursued if its most recent amendment were effective to defeat federal jurisdiction. We therefore must confront the merits of the vagueness holding.

"It is a basic principle of due process that an enactment is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined." Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 (emphasis

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added).12 We may assume that the definition of "connections with criminal elements" in the city's ordinance is so vague that a defendant could not be convicted of the offense of having such a connection; we may...

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