Adult video store sues Rhode Island town over Sunday sales

Wednesday, April 8, 1998

An adult video store recently sued the town of Middletown, R.I., in federal court on First Amendment grounds after town officials denied the store's request for a Sunday sales license.

Rhode Island law requires retailers to obtain a special sales permit in order to conduct business on Sundays and holidays. Capital Video Corporation, which does business in Middletown as Video Expo, applied for a permit in January of this year.

Town officials unanimously rejected the application in early February. The official minutes of the council meeting reflect that members believed the adult business was “not appropriate” for the town.

In a document filed before a federal district court in Providence, Capital Video alleges that “several Council members made unambiguous statements leaving no room for doubt that plaintiff was prohibited from being open to the public on Sundays and holidays simply because it engages in adult expression.”

The video store further alleges in Capital Video Corporation v. Town of Middletown that the actions of the town and its council members “amount to an unlawful, content-based prior restraint of free speech which squarely violates plaintiff's constitutional rights.”

Roger Wilcox, one of the attorneys representing the adult video store, said: “This is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, because the decision of the town council to deny the license request is clearly based on the council members' dislike of the adult-oriented nature of the material.

“It's clear that this is non-obscene expression that should be protected under both the federal and state constitutions,” he said.

William Flynn, vice chairman of the Middletown Town Council, referred questions to the town solicitor who will be defending the lawsuit, though he said: “I was hoping they [the video store] would be a better neighbor.”

A call placed to the town solicitor has not been returned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.