City of Mesquite v. Aladdin Castle, Inc, No. 80-1577

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEVENS
Citation102 S.Ct. 1070,455 U.S. 283,71 L.Ed.2d 152
PartiesCITY OF MESQUITE, Appellant, v. ALADDIN'S CASTLE, INC
Docket NumberNo. 80-1577
Decision Date23 February 1982

455 U.S. 283
102 S.Ct. 1070
71 L.Ed.2d 152
CITY OF MESQUITE, Appellant,

v.

ALADDIN'S CASTLE, INC.

No. 80-1577.
Argued Nov. 10, 1981.
Decided Feb. 23, 1982.
Judgment Recall Denied Oct. 31, 1983.
See 104 S.Ct. 329.
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a license (its license application having been initially denied under the predecessor to § 6), and after appellant had repealed appellee's exemption from the predecessor to § 5, appellee brought suit in Federal District Court, praying for an injunction against enforcement of the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 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

Page 284

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.

Elland Archer, Mesquite, Tex., for appellant.

Philip W. Tone, Chicago, Ill., for appellee.

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 ordi-

Page 285

nance 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

Page 286

held to be unconstitutionally 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, how-

Page 287

ever, 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

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 ac-

Page 288

tion 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, 101 S.Ct. 2312, 68 L.Ed.2d 838, 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.

Page 289

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 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, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (emphasis

Page 290

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 even assume, without deciding, that such a standard is also too vague to support the denial of an application for a license to operate an amusement center. These assumptions are not sufficient, however, to support a holding that this ordinance is invalid.

After receiving recommendations from the Chief of Police, the Chief Building Inspector, and the City Planner, the City Manager decides...

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962 practice notes
  • Marin v. Town of Se., No. 14–CV–2094 (KMK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 30, 2015
    ...the particular governing body remains free to reinstitute the law at a later date." (citing City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 288–89 & n. 10, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982) )). Here, while Plaintiff has levied a separate challenge to the constitutionality of t......
  • Independent Living Resources v. Oregon Arena Corp., Civ. No. 95-84-AS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • November 12, 1997
    ...plaintiffs will again be subjected to the same alleged wrongful conduct by this defendant. See City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 1074-75, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982). If those claims are moot, then there is no need for this court to decide whether ther......
  • Union of Needletrades, Industrial v. U.S. I.N.S., No. 00 CIV.2417.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • May 24, 2002
    ...does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice." City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982). Moreover "a defendant claiming that its voluntary compliance moots a case bears the formidable burd......
  • Speech First, Inc. v. Killeen, No. 19-2807
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 28, 2020
    ...evidence that the repeal was not genuine has the Court refused to hold the case moot." Id. In City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc. , 455 U.S. 283, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982) —a case Speech First cites—the Supreme Court held that a case was not moot despite the repeal of a c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
960 cases
  • Marin v. Town of Se., No. 14–CV–2094 (KMK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 30, 2015
    ...the particular governing body remains free to reinstitute the law at a later date." (citing City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 288–89 & n. 10, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982) )). Here, while Plaintiff has levied a separate challenge to the constitutionality of t......
  • Independent Living Resources v. Oregon Arena Corp., Civ. No. 95-84-AS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • November 12, 1997
    ...plaintiffs will again be subjected to the same alleged wrongful conduct by this defendant. See City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 1074-75, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982). If those claims are moot, then there is no need for this court to decide whether ther......
  • Union of Needletrades, Industrial v. U.S. I.N.S., No. 00 CIV.2417.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • May 24, 2002
    ...does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice." City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982). Moreover "a defendant claiming that its voluntary compliance moots a case bears the formidable burd......
  • Speech First, Inc. v. Killeen, No. 19-2807
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 28, 2020
    ...evidence that the repeal was not genuine has the Court refused to hold the case moot." Id. In City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc. , 455 U.S. 283, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982) —a case Speech First cites—the Supreme Court held that a case was not moot despite the repeal of a c......
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2 books & journal articles
  • LITIGATING IMPERFECT SOLUTIONS: STATE CONSTITUTIONAL CLAIMS IN FEDERAL COURT.
    • United States
    • September 22, 2020
    ...STUDY OF THE DIVISION OF JURISDICTION BETWEEN STATE AND FEDERAL COURTS 293-94 (1968). (89.) City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, 455 U.S. 283, 293 (1982); Brennan, supra note 3, at 489; cf. Michael T. Morley, Beyond the Elements: Erie and the Standards for Preliminary and Permanent Injunct......
  • MANUFACTURING SOVEREIGN STATE MOOTNESS.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 63 Nbr. 1, October 2021
    • October 1, 2021
    ...v. Oakes, 491 U.S. 576, 576 (1989) (holding that an amendment to the challenged child pornography statute mooted the case). (57.) 455 U.S. 283, 289 (58.) 508 U.S. 656, 662 (1993). (59.) See id. (60.) 140 S. Ct. 1525, 1533 (2020) (Alito, J., dissenting). (61.) Id. (62.) Id. at 1534-35 (quoti......

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