475 U.S. 41 (1986), 84-1360, City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 84-1360
Citation:475 U.S. 41, 106 S.Ct. 925, 89 L.Ed.2d 29, 54 U.S.L.W. 4160
Party Name:City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.
Case Date:February 25, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 41

475 U.S. 41 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 925, 89 L.Ed.2d 29, 54 U.S.L.W. 4160

City of Renton

v.

Playtime Theatres, Inc.

No. 84-1360

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 25, 1986

Argued November 12, 1985

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents purchased two theaters in Renton, Washington, with the intention of exhibiting adult films and, at about the same time, filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that the First and Fourteenth Amendments were violated by a city ordinance that prohibits adult motion picture theaters from locating within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, single- or multiple-family dwelling, church, park, or school. The District Court ultimately entered summary judgment in the city's favor, holding that the ordinance did not violate the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the ordinance constituted a substantial restriction on First Amendment interests, and remanded the case for reconsideration as to whether the city had substantial governmental interests to support the ordinance.

Held: The ordinance is a valid governmental response to the serious problems created by adult theaters and satisfies the dictates of the First Amendment. Cf. Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50. Pp. 46-55.

(a) Since the ordinance does not ban adult theaters altogether, it is properly analyzed as a form of time, place, and manner regulation. "Content-neutral" time, place, and manner regulations are acceptable so long as they are designed to serve a substantial governmental interest and do not unreasonably limit alternative avenues of communication. Pp. 46-47.

(b) The District Court found that the Renton City Council's "predominate" concerns were with the secondary effects of adult theaters on the surrounding community, not with the content of adult films themselves. This finding is more than adequate to establish that the city's pursuit of its zoning interests was unrelated to the suppression of free expression, and thus the ordinance is a "content-neutral" speech regulation. Pp. 47-50.

(c) The Renton ordinance is designed to serve a substantial governmental interest while allowing for reasonable alternative avenues of communication. A city's interest in attempting to preserve the quality of urban life, as here, must be accorded high respect. Although the ordinance was enacted without the benefit of studies specifically relating to

Page 42

Renton's particular problems, Renton was entitled to rely on the experiences of, and studies produced by, the nearby city of Seattle and other cities. Nor was there any constitutional defect in the method chosen by Renton to further its substantial interests. Cities may regulate adult theaters by dispersing them, or by effectively concentrating them, as in Renton. Moreover, the ordinance is not "underinclusive" for failing to regulate other kinds of adult businesses, since there was no evidence that, at the time the ordinance was enacted, any other adult business was located in, or was contemplating moving into, Renton. Pp. 50-53.

(d) As required by the First Amendment, the ordinance allows for reasonable alternative avenues of communication. Although respondents argue that, in general, there are no "commercially viable" adult theater sites within the limited area of land left open for such theaters by the ordinance, the fact that respondents must fend for themselves in the real estate market, on an equal footing with other prospective purchasers and lessees, does not give rise to a violation of the First Amendment, which does not compel the Government to ensure that adult theaters, or any other kinds of speech-related businesses, will be able to obtain sites at bargain prices. Pp. 53-54.

748 F.2d 527, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 55.

Page 43

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves a constitutional challenge to a zoning ordinance, enacted by appellant city of Renton, Washington, that prohibits adult motion picture theaters from locating within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, single- or multiple-family dwelling, church, park, or school. Appellees, Playtime Theatres, Inc., and Sea-First Properties, Inc., filed an action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington seeking a declaratory judgment that the Renton ordinance violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and a permanent injunction against its enforcement. The District Court ruled in favor of Renton and denied the permanent injunction, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for reconsideration. 748 F.2d 527 (1984). We noted probable jurisdiction, 471 U.S. 1013 (1985), [106 S.Ct. 927] and now reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.1 Page 44

In May 1980, the Mayor of Renton, a city of approximately 32,000 people located just south of Seattle, suggested to the Renton City Council that it consider the advisability of enacting zoning legislation dealing with adult entertainment uses. No such uses existed in the city at that time. Upon the Mayor's suggestion, the City Council referred the matter to the city's Planning and Development Committee. The Committee held public hearings, reviewed the experiences of Seattle and other cities, and received a report from the City Attorney's Office advising as to developments in other cities. The City Council, meanwhile, adopted Resolution No. 2368, which imposed a moratorium on the licensing of "any business . . . which . . . has as its primary purpose the selling, renting or showing of sexually explicit materials." App. 43. The resolution contained a clause explaining that such businesses "would have a severe impact upon surrounding businesses and residences." Id. at 42.

In April, 1981, acting on the basis of the Planning and Development Committee's recommendation, the City Council enacted Ordinance No. 3626. The ordinance prohibited any "adult motion picture theater" from locating within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, single- or multiple-family dwelling, church, or park, and within one mile of any school. App. to Juris. Statement 79a. The term "adult motion picture theater" was defined as

[a]n enclosed building used for presenting motion picture films, video cassettes, cable television, or any other such visual media, distinguished or characteri[zed] by an emphasis on matter depicting, describing or relating to "specified sexual activities" or "specified anatomical areas" . . . for observation by patrons therein.

Id. at 78a.

Page 45

In early 1982, respondents acquired two existing theaters in downtown Renton, with the intention of using them to exhibit feature-length adult films. The theaters were located within the area proscribed by Ordinance No. 3526. At about the same time, respondents filed the previously mentioned lawsuit challenging the ordinance on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. While the federal action was pending, the City Council amended the ordinance in several respects, adding a statement of reasons for its enactment and reducing the minimum distance from any school to 1,000 feet.

In November, 1982, the Federal Magistrate to whom respondents' action had been referred recommended the entry of a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Renton ordinance and the denial of Renton's motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. The District Court adopted the Magistrate's recommendations and entered the preliminary injunction, and respondents began showing adult films at their two theaters in Renton. Shortly thereafter, the parties agreed to submit the case for a final decision on whether a permanent [106 S.Ct. 928] injunction should issue on the basis of the record as already developed.

The District Court then vacated the preliminary injunction, denied respondents' requested permanent injunction, and entered summary judgment in favor of Renton. The court found that the Renton ordinance did not substantially restrict First Amendment interests, that Renton was not required to show specific adverse impact on Renton from the operation of adult theaters, but could rely on the experiences of other cities, that the purposes of the ordinance were unrelated to the suppression of speech, and that the restrictions on speech imposed by the ordinance were no greater than necessary to further the governmental interests involved. Relying on Young v. American Mini Theatres Inc., 427 U.S. 50 (1976), and United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), the court held that the Renton ordinance did not violate the First Amendment.

Page 46

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. The Court of Appeals first concluded, contrary to the finding of the District Court, that the Renton ordinance constituted a substantial restriction on First Amendment interests. Then, using the standards set forth in United States v. O'Brien, supra, the Court of Appeals held that Renton had improperly relied on the experiences of other cities in lieu of evidence about the effects of adult theaters on Renton, that Renton had thus failed to establish adequately the existence of a substantial governmental interest in support of its ordinance, and that, in any event, Renton's asserted interests had not been shown to be unrelated to the suppression of expression. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the District Court for reconsideration of Renton's asserted interests.

In our view, the resolution of this case is largely dictated by our decision in Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc.,...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP