Sexually oriented businesses, including strip clubs in Beaumont, might be getting a reprieve after a round of lawsuits against the city of Beaumont were dropped when the city moved to allow two such businesses to obtain a sexually oriented business license.
According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern Division, J.A.I. Dining Services Inc., which owns Jaguars at 5900 College St.; and Fannett Entertainment, owner of The Plantation at 4680 Fannett Road, both filed suit against the city March 18 claiming a violation of their rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.
In their lawsuit, both companies say the Beaumont’s municipal ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses denies them due process of law, protected free speech and protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Both companies sued for lost business, attorney’s fees and other damages associated with what they say is a crusade against their legitimate businesses.
At issue is a section of the ordinance that prohibits sexually oriented businesses from operating within 1,500 feet of a church, school, day care or household dwelling, as well as provisions which require disclosure of employee data — including Social Security numbers — to police who can inspect and/or demand access to personal business data at any time.
The ordinance, however, does not apply to businesses “grandfathered in” before the ordinance was passed. The old Jaguars on College Street and The Plantation on Fannett — now the new Jaguars — are among these businesses.
In their lawsuit, the owners of the old Jaguars on College Street claimed that despite a valid certificate of occupancy, on Jan. 15, the city cut power to the club. In order to remedy situation, the city required them to apply for a new certificate of occupancy, and it did so two days later, Jan. 17. The lawsuit claims they sought to complete work required by the city but were subsequently refused the building permits and inspections of work already complete. The power has since remained off and the College Street business closed.
To avoid the same fate in the event of a change of ownership or name, Fannett Entertainment, owner of the new Jaguars on Fannett, joined the suit against the city.
The city required the same of Fannett Entertainment at the new Jaguars on Fannett as it did of J.A.I.’s Jaguars on College: a new certificate of occupancy, “though the code itself appears to contain no such requirement,” the suit states. After a subsequent inspection of the new Jaguars on Fannett showed a handful of violations including “a missing filter on a soda machine and an overused electrical outlet,” the lawsuit says Fannett Entertainment addressed the issues raised by the city in an effort to acquire a new certificate of occupancy, but the city refused to inspect the premises and issue a new certificate.
By March 6, Beaumont Police Department’s Lt. Ky Brown — named as a defendant in the lawsuit — had sent both businesses a letter informing them they were under investigation for violating city ordinances.
By March 18, both clubs had lawyered up and were seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunction barring the enforcement of the city’s sexually oriented business ordinance.
“I think everything is well on the road to being resolved,” said Councilman Mike Getz, whose Ward includes the old Jaguars on College Street. “Everybody is gonna walk away satisfied.”
It seems the city of Beaumont has stepped in and legal minds, including City Attorney Tyrone Cooper, have advised BPD to stop the investigation.
Cooper did not return multiple calls for comment, but BPD chief Jimmy Singletary said his office was simply enforcing current laws as they are written and will continue to work at the city council’s behest.
“We felt like they (Jaguars and The Plantation) shouldn’t be operating,” he said. “But the council and the legal people there at the city decided that in the interest of fair play we just go ahead and let them do it, and we are going to enforce any laws they have and take it from there.”
At the council’s executive session March 26, Singletary said city officials thought it was best the city allow both businesses to obtain a certificate of occupancy and a sexually oriented business license, adding there has not been an increase in complaints regarding crime at the businesses.
“We’ve gotta be as fair with them as we are with any other business,” he said. “If they run the business right and abide by the rules, they won’t have any problems.”
Two days after the council meeting, on March 28, J.A.I and Fannett dropped their suit against the city in Marcia Crone’s U.S. District Court.
According to court documents, the city was also sued in 2009 by Fannett Entertainment on similar Constitutional grounds, but the suit was dropped by Fannett some two months later, perhaps as a result of a “grandfathered” agreement with the city.
And it’s a good thing they did, Getz said.
“I think we had some constitutional issues that would arise if you would not allow the owner to sell his property interest to a new individual,” he said of the city’s latest suit.
“I think that if we had tried to litigate that, we would’ve been in for a long ride.”
Clay Thorp can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at clay [at] theexaminer [dot] com.