Interactive Dig. Software v. St. Louis County, Mo.

Decision Date19 April 2002
Docket NumberNo. 4:00CV2030 SNL.,4:00CV2030 SNL.
Citation200 F.Supp.2d 1126
PartiesINTERACTIVE DIGITAL SOFTWARE ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs, v. ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri

Paul J. Puricelli, Stone and Leyton, Clayton, MO, Paul M. Smith, Deanne E. Maynard, David C. Belt, Jenner and Block, Washington, DC, for plaintiffs.

Michael A. Shuman, St. Louis County Counselor's Office, Clayton, MO, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LIMBAUGH, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (# 30). Plaintiffs brought the instant cause of action seeking a declaration that St. Louis County Ordinance No. 20,193 (Oct. 26, 2000) is unconstitutional pursuant to the First Amendment freedom of expression. The Ordinance in general makes it unlawful for someone to knowingly sell, rent, make available, or permit the "free play" of violent video games to minors without a parent or guardian's consent.

Summary Judgment Standard

Courts have repeatedly recognized that summary judgment is a harsh remedy that should be granted only when the moving party has established his right to judgment with such clarity as not to give rise to controversy. New England Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Null, 554 F.2d 896, 901 (8th Cir.1977). However, summary judgment motions "can be a tool of great utility in removing factually insubstantial cases from crowded dockets, freeing courts' trial time for those that really do raise genuine issues of material fact." Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir.1988).

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a district court may grant a motion for summary judgment if all the information before the court demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to a material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Poller v. Columbia Broad. Sys., Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 467, 82 S.Ct. 486, 488, 7 L.Ed.2d 458 (1962). The burden is on the moving party. Mt. Pleasant, 838 F.2d at 273. After the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than show that there is some doubt as to the facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Instead, the nonmoving party bears the burden of setting forth specific facts showing that there is sufficient evidence in its favor to allow a jury to return a verdict for it. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

In passing on a motion for summary judgment, the court must review the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Buller v. Buechler, 706 F.2d 844, 846 (8th Cir.1983). The court is required to resolve all conflicts of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Robert Johnson Grain Co. v. Chem. Interchange Co., 541 F.2d 207, 210 (8th Cir.1976).

Background

Plaintiffs are companies or associations of companies that create, publish, distribute, sell, rent, and/or make available to the public video games, including both computer and arcade games, and related software. They brought suit against St. Louis County, the County Executive of St. Louis County, and the Chief of Police of St. Louis County alleging that St. Louis County Ordinance No. 20,193 (Oct. 26, 2000), amending Chapter 602 of the St. Louis County Revised Ordinances by adding new sections 602.425 through 602.460, infringes upon constitutionally protected rights of free expression.

Prior to the passage of the Ordinance, the St. Louis County Council's Justice, Health and Welfare Committee held two hearings on the Ordinance on October 12, 2000, and October 19, 2000. There was testimony at the hearings by Dr. Craig Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, and Dr. Margaret Dolan, the Principal of McNair Elementary School in University City, Missouri. In his testimony, Dr. Anderson referred to studies which found that violent video games caused psychological damage to children. St. Louis County provided the Court a copy of the studies referred to by Dr. Anderson.1 Representatives from the video game industry also testified before the Committee hearings. They explained the industry's rating system which is already in place, and how this voluntary self regulation is sufficient to address the issue without government regulation. Ms. Markels stated that the "control is in the hands of the viewers or players of the game."2 Most of the industry's representatives stated that they are in support of the rating system, and their only problem with the Ordinance is that they believe it violates the First Amendment. A public forum was held on October 26, 2000, after which the County passed the Ordinance.

The Ordinance starts out with a six paragraph Preamble indicating why the ordinance was being enacted and what compelling interests the County has in enacting this legislation. The Preamble is as follows:

WHEREAS, exposure of children to graphic and lifelike violence contained in some video games has been correlated to violent behavior, and in fact the perpetrators of recent school shootings in Columbine, Colorado; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Paducah, Kentucky were reported to be avid fans of such games; and

WHEREAS, numerous medical studies have cited a link between prolonged playing of violent video games and violent, antisocial and otherwise harmful behavioral patterns, and the American Medical Association suggests that exposure to violence, such as in these video games, causes children to imitate violent behavior, glorify violent heroes, become desensitized to violence and learn that violence is rewarded; and

WHEREAS, violence by and between children has become a severe threat to the physical and emotional health of children; and

WHEREAS, disruptive behavior by children who regularly watch or play violent video games has become a problem in schools and inhibits educators' ability to educate their students; and

WHEREAS, St. Louis County as a political subdivision of the State of Missouri has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and emotional health of children; and

WHEREAS, parents and guardians should have the power to control the types of games their children play and to control their exposure to violent and sexual materials.3

The Ordinance requires owners and managers of arcades to place video games which they know to be harmful to minors separate and apart from other video games, and shall designate such areas as "Restricted-17." § 602.435. The Ordinance makes it unlawful to knowingly sell or rent a video game which is harmful to a minor unless that minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian who consents to the purchase or sale. § 602.440.1. The Ordinance also makes it unlawful to knowingly admit a minor to a "Restricted-17" area, and to knowingly permit the free play of a video game which is harmful to minors on premises which video games are sold or rented. § 602.440.1-.2. "Harmful to minors" is defined in the Ordinance to mean a video game that "predominantly appeals to minors' morbid interest in violence", "is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value as a whole for minors, and contains ... graphic violence." § 602.425(c). The term "graphic violence" is defined in the Ordinance as the "visual depiction or representation of realistic serious injury to a human or human-like being where such serious injury includes amputation, decapitation, dismemberment, bloodshed, mutilation, maiming or disfiguration." § 602.425(d).

The Ordinance also contains a section regarding the "Presumption of Video Game Contents." It states that there shall be a "rebuttable presumption that video games rated `M' or `AO' by the Entertainment Software Review Board (ESRB) are harmful to minors." It goes on to state that video games rated "T," "EC," or "E" will be presumed not to contain graphic violence. § 620.450.1. In addition, there is a rebuttable presumption that arcade games rated "red" by the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA), the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA) and/or the International Association of Family Entertainment Centers (IAFEC) are harmful to minors, whereas those rated "yellow" or "green" do not contain graphic violence. § 620.450.2.

The ESRB rating system divides games into five categories based on the review of game content by trained raters. "EC" stands for "Early Childhood," and titles rated "EC" have content that may be suitable for children three years and older. Videos rated "E" for "Everyone" have content that may be suitable for persons age six and older, and may contain minimal violence, some comic mischief, or some crude language. Those videos rated "T" for "Teen" have content suitable for those thirteen years or older, and may contain violent content, mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes. Titles rated "M" for "Mature" have content which may be suitable for those older than seventeen, and may include more intense violence or language than products in the Teen category, as well as, mature sexual themes. Those rated "AO" for "Adults Only" have contents suitable only for adults. These products may include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence.

The AAMA, AMOA and IALEI rate arcade games as "green," "yellow," and "red." Those marked with a "green" sticker are suitable for all ages. Those marked "yellow" contain either scenes of violence involving characters, engaged in combative activity that does not result in bloodshed, serious injury and/or death...

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