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City of Erie v. Pap's A.M.

March 29, 2000

CITY OF ERIE, ET AL., PETITIONERS V. PAP'S A. M. TDBA "KANDYLAND"


Court Below: 553 Pa. 348, 719 A. 2d 273.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 1999

ERIE v. PAP'S A. M.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

CITY OF ERIE et al. v. PAP'S A. M., tdba "KANDYLAND"

Certiorari To The Supreme Court Of Pennsylvania

No. 98-1161.

Argued November 10, 1999

Decided March 29, 2000

Erie, Pennsylvania, enacted an ordinance making it a summary offense to knowingly or intentionally appear in public in a "state of nudity." Respondent Pap's A. M. (hereinafter Pap's), a Pennsylvania corporation, operated "Kandyland," an Erie establishment featuring totally nude erotic dancing by women. To comply with the ordinance, these dancers had to wear, at a minimum, "pasties" and a "G-string." Pap's filed suit against Erie and city officials, seeking declaratory relief and a permanent injunction against the ordinance's enforcement. The Court of Common Pleas struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional, but the Commonwealth Court reversed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in turn reversed, finding that the ordinance's public nudity sections violated Pap's right to freedom of expression as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Pennsylvania court held that nude dancing is expressive conduct entitled to some quantum of protection under the First Amendment, a view that the court noted was endorsed by eight Members of this Court in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U. S. 560. The Pennsylvania court explained that, although one stated purpose of the ordinance was to combat negative secondary effects, there was also an unmentioned purpose to "impact negatively on the erotic message of the dance." Accordingly, the Pennsylvania court concluded that the ordinance was related to the suppression of expression. Because the ordinance was not content neutral, it was subject to strict scrutiny. The court held that the ordinance failed the narrow tailoring requirement of strict scrutiny. After this Court granted certiorari, Pap's filed a motion to dismiss the case as moot, noting that Kandyland no longer operated as a nude dancing club, and that Pap's did not operate such a club at any other location. This Court denied the motion.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

Opinion of the Court

ERIE v. PAP'S A. M.

On Writ Of Certiorari To The Supreme Court Of Pennsylvania, Western District

Justice O'Connor announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, and an opinion with respect to Parts III and IV, in which The Chief Justice, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Breyer join.

The city of Erie, Pennsylvania, enacted an ordinance banning public nudity. Respondent Pap's A. M. (hereinafter Pap's), which operated a nude dancing establishment in Erie, challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance and sought a permanent injunction against its enforcement. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, although noting that this Court in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U. S. 560 (1991), had upheld an Indiana ordinance that was "strikingly similar" to Erie's, found that the public nudity sections of the ordinance violated respondent's right to freedom of expression under the United States Constitution. 553 Pa. 348, 356, 719 A. 2d 273, 277 (1998). This case raises the question whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court properly evaluated the ordinance's constitutionality under the First Amendment. We hold that Erie's ordinance is a content-neutral regulation that satisfies the four-part test of United States v. O'Brien, 391 U. S. 367 (1968). Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and remand for the consideration of any remaining issues.

I.

On September 28, 1994, the city council for the city of Erie, Pennsylvania, enacted Ordinance 75-1994, a public indecency ordinance that makes it a summary offense to knowingly or intentionally appear in public in a "state of nudity."* *fn1 Respondent Pap's, a Pennsylvania corporation, operated an establishment in Erie known as "Kandyland" that featured totally nude erotic dancing performed by women. To comply with the ordinance, these dancers must wear, at a minimum, "pasties" and a "G&nbhyph;string." On October 14, 1994, two days after the ordinance went into effect, Pap's filed a complaint against the city of Erie, the mayor of the city, and members of the city council, seeking declaratory relief and a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the ordinance.

The Court of Common Pleas of Erie County granted the permanent injunction and struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional. Civ. No. 60059-1994 (Jan. 18, 1995), Pet. for Cert. 40a. On cross appeals, the Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court's order. 674 A. 2d 338 (1996).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review and reversed, concluding that the public nudity provisions of the ordinance violated respondent's rights to freedom of expression as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 553 Pa. 348, 719 A. 2d 273 (1998). The Pennsylvania court first inquired whether nude dancing constitutes expressive conduct that is within the protection of the First Amendment. The court noted that the act of being nude, in and of itself, is not entitled to First Amendment protection because it conveys no message. Id., at 354, 719 A. 2d, at 276. Nude dancing, however, is expressive conduct that is entitled to some quantum of protection under the First Amendment, a view that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted was endorsed by eight Members of this Court in Barnes. 553 Pa., at 354, 719 A. 2d, at 276.

The Pennsylvania court next inquired whether the government interest in enacting the ordinance was content neutral, explaining that regulations that are unrelated to the suppression of expression are not subject to strict scrutiny but to the less stringent standard of United States v. O'Brien, supra, at 377. To answer the question whether the ordinance is content based, the court turned to our decision in Barnes. 553 Pa., at 355-356, 719 A. 2d, at 277. Although the Pennsylvania court noted that the Indiana statute at issue in Barnes "is strikingly similar to the Ordinance we are examining," it concluded that "[u]nfortunately for our purposes, the Barnes Court splintered and produced four separate, non-harmonious opinions." 553 Pa., at 356, 719 A. 2d, at 277. After canvassing these separate opinions, the Pennsylvania court concluded that, although it is permissible to find precedential effect in a fragmented decision, to do so a majority of the Court must have been in agreement on the concept that is deemed to be the holding. See Marks v. United States, 430 U. S. 188 (1977). The Pennsylvania court noted that "aside from the agreement by a majority of the Barnes Court that nude dancing is entitled to some First Amendment protection, we can find no point on which a majority of the Barnes Court agreed." 553 Pa., at 358, 719 A. 2d, at 278. Accordingly, the court concluded that "no clear precedent arises out of Barnes on the issue of whether the [Erie] ordinance ... passes muster under the First Amendment." Ibid.

Having determined that there was no United States Supreme Court precedent on point, the Pennsylvania court conducted an independent examination of the ordinance to ascertain whether it was related to the suppression of expression. The court concluded that although one of the purposes of the ordinance was to combat negative secondary effects, "[i]nextricably bound up with this stated purpose is an unmentioned purpose ... to impact negatively on the erotic message of the dance." Id., at 359, 719 A. 2d, at 279. As such, the court determined the ordinance was content based and subject to strict scrutiny. The ordinance failed the narrow tailoring requirement of strict scrutiny because the court found that imposing criminal and civil sanctions on those who commit sex crimes would be a far narrower means of combating secondary effects than the requirement that dancers wear pasties and G-strings. Id., at 361-362, 719 A. 2d, at 280.

Concluding that the ordinance unconstitutionally burdened respondent's expressive conduct, the Pennsylvania court then determined that, under Pennsylvania law, the public nudity provisions of the ordinance could be severed rather than striking the ordinance in its entirety. Accordingly, the court severed §§1(c) and 2 from the ordinance and reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. Id., at 363-364, 719 A. 2d, at 281. Because the court determined that the public nudity provisions of the ordinance violated Pap's right to freedom of expression under the United States Constitution, it did not address the constitutionality of the ordinance under the Pennsylvania Constitution or the claim that the ordinance is unconstitutionally overbroad. Ibid.

In a separate concurrence, two justices of the Pennsylvania court noted that, because this Court upheld a virtually identical statute in Barnes, the ordinance should have been upheld under the United States Constitution. 553 Pa., at 364, 719 A. 2d, at 281. They reached the same result as the majority, however, because they would have held that the public nudity sections of the ordinance violate the Pennsylvania Constitution. Id., at 370, 719 A. 2d, at 284.

The city of Erie petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which we granted. 526 U. S. 1111 (1999). Shortly thereafter, Pap's filed a motion to dismiss the case as moot, noting that Kandyland was no longer operating as a nude dancing club, and Pap's was not operating a nude dancing club at any other location. Respondent's Motion to Dismiss as Moot 1. We denied the motion. 527 U. S. 1034 (1999).

II.

As a preliminary matter, we must address the justiciability question. " `[A] case is moot when the issues presented are no longer `live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.' " County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U. S. 625, 631 (1979) (quoting Powell v. McCormack, 395 U. S. 486, 496 (1969)). The underlying concern is that, when the challenged conduct ceases such that " `there is no reasonable expectation that the wrong will be repeated,' " United States v. W. T. Grant Co., 345 U. S. 629, 633 (1953), then it becomes impossible for the court to grant " `any effectual relief whatever' to [the] prevailing party," Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U. S. 9, 12 (1992) (quoting Mills v. Green, 159 U. S. 651, 653 (1895)). In that case, any opinion as to the legality of the challenged action would be advisory.

Here, Pap's submitted an affidavit stating that it had "ceased to operate a nude dancing establishment in Erie." Status Report Re Potential Issue of Mootness 1 (Sept. 8, 1999). Pap's asserts that the case is therefore moot because "[t]he outcome of this case will have no effect upon Respondent." Respondent's Motion to Dismiss as Moot 1. Simply closing Kandyland is not sufficient to render this case moot, however. Pap's is still incorporated under Pennsylvania law, and it could again decide to operate a nude dancing establishment in Erie. See Petitioner's Brief in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss 3. Justice Scalia differs with our assessment as to the likelihood that Pap's may resume its nude dancing operation. Several Members of this Court can attest, however, that the "advanced age" of Pap's owner (72) does not make it "absolutely clear" that a life of quiet retirement is his only reasonable expectation. Cf. Friends of Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U. S. ___ (2000). Moreover, our appraisal of Pap's affidavit is influenced by Pap's failure, despite its obligation to the Court, to mention a word about the potential mootness issue in its brief in opposition to the petition for writ of certiorari, which was filed in April 1999, even though, as Justice Scalia points out, Kandyland was closed and that property sold in 1998. See Board of License Comm'rs of Tiverton v. Pastore, 469 U. S. 238, 240 (1985) (per curiam). Pap's only raised the issue after this Court granted certiorari.

In any event, this is not a run of the mill voluntary cessation case. Here it is the plaintiff who, having prevailed below, now seeks to have the case declared moot. And it is the city of Erie that seeks to invoke the federal judicial power to obtain this Court's review of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. Cf. ASARCO Inc. v. Kadish, 490 U. S. 605, 617-618 (1989). The city has an ongoing injury because it is barred from enforcing the public nudity provisions of its ordinance. If the challenged ordinance is found constitutional, then Erie can enforce it, and the availability of such relief is sufficient to prevent the case from being moot. See Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, supra, at 13. And Pap's still has a concrete stake in the outcome of this case because, to the extent Pap's has an interest in resuming operations, it has an interest in preserving the judgment of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Our interest in preventing litigants from attempting to manipulate the Court's jurisdiction to insulate a favorable decision from review further counsels against a finding of mootness here. See United States v. W. T. Grant Co., supra, at 632; cf. Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U. S. 43, 74 (1997). Although the issue is close, we conclude that the case is not moot, and we turn to the merits.

III.

Being "in a state of nudity" is not an inherently expressive condition. As we explained in Barnes, however, nude dancing of the type at issue here is expressive conduct, although we think that it falls only within the outer ambit of the First Amendment's protection. See Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U. S., at 565-566 (plurality opinion); Schad v. Mount Ephraim, 452 U. S. 61, 66 (1981).

To determine what level of scrutiny applies to the ordinance at issue here, we must decide "whether the State's regulation is related to the suppression of expression." Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 403 (1989); see also United States v. O'Brien, 391 U. S., at 377. If the governmental purpose in enacting the regulation is unrelated to the suppression of expression, then the regulation need only satisfy the "less stringent" standard from O'Brien for evaluating restrictions on symbolic speech. Texas v. Johnson, supra, at 403; United States v. O'Brien, supra, at 377. If the government interest is related to the content of the expression, however, then the regulation falls outside the scope of the O'Brien test and must be justified under a more demanding standard. Texas v. Johnson, supra, at 403.

In Barnes, we analyzed an almost identical statute, holding that Indiana's public nudity ban did not violate the First Amendment, although no five Members of the Court agreed on a single rationale for that conclusion. We now clarify that government restrictions on public nudity such as the ordinance at issue here should be evaluated under the framework set forth in O'Brien for content-neutral restrictions on symbolic speech.

The city of Erie argues that the ordinance is a content-neutral restriction that is reviewable under O'Brien because the ordinance bans conduct, not speech; specifically, public nudity. Respondent counters that the ordinance targets nude dancing and, as such, is aimed specifically at suppressing expression, making the ordinance a content-based restriction that must be subjected to strict scrutiny.

The ordinance here, like the statute in Barnes, is on its face a general prohibition on public nudity. 553 Pa., at 354, 719 A. 2d, at 277. By its terms, the ordinance regulates conduct alone. It does not target nudity that contains an erotic message; rather, it bans all public nudity, regardless of whether that nudity is accompanied by expressive activity. And like the statute in Barnes, the Erie ordinance replaces and updates provisions of an "Indecency and Immorality" ordinance that has been on the books since 1866, predating the prevalence of nude dancing establishments such as Kandyland. Pet. for Cert. 7a; see Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., supra, at 568.

Respondent and Justice Stevens contend nonetheless that the ordinance is related to the suppression of expression because language in the ordinance's preamble suggests that its actual purpose is to prohibit erotic dancing of the type performed at Kandyland. Post, at 1 (dissenting opinion). That is not how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court interpreted that language, however. In the preamble to the ordinance, the city council stated that it was adopting the regulation

" `for the purpose of limiting a recent increase in nude live entertainment within the City, which activity adversely impacts and threatens to impact on the public health, safety and welfare by providing an atmosphere conducive to violence, sexual harassment, public intoxication, prostitution, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and other deleterious effects.' " 553 Pa., at 359, 719 A. 2d, at 279.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court construed this language to mean that one purpose of the ordinance was "to combat negative secondary effects." Ibid.

As Justice Souter noted in Barnes, "on its face, the governmental interest in combating prostitution and other criminal activity is not at all inherently related to expression." 501 U. S., at 585 (opinion concurring in judgment). In that sense, this case is similar to O'Brien. O'Brien burned his draft registration card as a public statement of his antiwar views, and he was convicted under a statute making it a crime to knowingly mutilate or destroy such a card. This Court rejected his claim that the statute violated his First Amendment rights, reasoning that the law punished him for the "non-communicative impact of his conduct, and for nothing else." 391 U. S., at 382. In other words, the Government regulation prohibiting the destruction of draft cards was aimed at maintaining the integrity of the Selective Service System and not at suppressing the message of draft resistance that O'Brien sought to convey by burning his draft card. So too here, the ordinance prohibiting public nudity is aimed at combating crime and other negative secondary effects caused by the presence of adult entertainment establishments like Kandyland and not at suppressing the erotic message conveyed by this type of nude dancing. Put another way, the ordinance does not attempt to regulate the primary effects of the expression, i.e., the effect on the audience of watching nude erotic dancing, but rather the secondary effects, such as the impacts on public health, safety, and welfare, which we have previously recognized are "caused by the presence of even one such" establishment. Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U. S. 41, 47-48, 50 (1986); see also Boos v. Barry, 485 U. S. 312, 321 (1988).

Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court acknowledged that one goal of the ordinance was to combat the negative secondary effects associated with nude dancing establishments, the court concluded that the ordinance was nevertheless content based, relying on Justice White's position in dissent in Barnes for the proposition that a ban of this type necessarily has the purpose of suppressing the erotic message of the dance. Because the Pennsylvania court agreed with Justice White's approach, it concluded that the ordinance must have another, "unmentioned" purpose related to the suppression of expression. 553 Pa., at 359, 719 A. 2d, at 279. That is, the Pennsylvania court adopted the dissent's view in Barnes that " `[s]ince the State permits the dancers to perform if they wear pasties and G&nbhyph;strings but forbids nude dancing, it is precisely because of the distinctive, expressive content of the nude dancing performances at issue in ...


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