The city of Sandy Springs is the winner in a federal court appeal challenging its restrictions on adult businesses as unconstitutional. The Aug. 14 decision essentially means that an adult bookstore and two strip clubs must move or shut down unless they file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cary Wiggins, one of the attorneys representing the adult businesses in the case, indicated that appeal is on the way.

“We are still evaluating the decision. But yes, there will be further action on the case,” he said.

The sign for the adult bookstore Inserection at 7855 Roswell Road. (John Ruch)

Wendell Willard, the former city attorney long involved in the decade-long legal battle,  said the city is “pleased the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals did unanimously and fully agree with the District Court’s opinion. This has been a long road the city has traveled to reach this point on the issue of [the] secondary effect of serving alcohol in adult strip clubs. Many times the courts have upheld similar ordinances in other jurisdictions, and we are pleased to have reached this point.”

City Attorney Dan Lee echoed Willard’s comments and said the city is prepared if the businesses file an appeal, which has a 30-day deadline.

“The city’s committed to staying with it,” Lee said. “[We will] keep our powder dry.”

The case involves the bookstore Inserection and the strip clubs Flashers and Mardi Gras. It began in 2006, when the businesses challenged new city codes suggested by Scott Bergthold, a Tennessee attorney who specializes in municipal laws cracking down on sexually oriented businesses. The codes aimed to ban the sale of booze—a major source of revenue—in strip clubs and to place strong zoning restrictions on where such businesses could operate. The businesses filed suit in federal district court, alleging that the city was violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Last year, the city won the lawsuit, with a judge ruling that the city was not violating the Constitution and that the plaintiffs essentially had no case.

The adult businesses appealed to the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In an unsigned decision issued Aug. 14, the court upheld the lower court ruling. The court wrote that the businesses were “asking us to announce three new and substantial changes in the law governing their right to free speech and expression under both the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions,” and the court declined to do that.

However, the opinion seems to allow some room for an appeal based on the interpretation of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a significant 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving free speech and city restrictions on signs.

The adult businesses would have to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.