Dallas dance hall prevails as licensing law struck down

Tuesday, July 28, 1998

Dallas city officials cannot suspend the business license of a local dance hall that features striptease shows because the licensing law is unconstitutional, a state appeals court ruled on Friday.

More than three years ago, the Dallas chief of police informed the owner of The Fare West dance club that his license had been suspended for five days. The police chief claimed that he had the power to revoke the license based on a city law that provided:

“The chief of police shall suspend a dance hall license for a period of time not exceeding 30 days if the chief of police determines that a licensee or an employee of a licensee has: … demonstrated inability to operate or manage a dance hall premises in a peaceful and law abiding manner, thus necessitating action by law enforcement officials.”

After receiving notice of its suspension, the club appealed to the city's Permit and License Appeal Board. The permit board reduced but did not overturn the suspension.

Then the club sued the city in state court, contending that the licensing law violated its First Amendment and due-process rights.

After a trial court struck down the ordinance, the city appealed to the Texas Court of Appeals.

In City of Dallas v. MD II Entertainment, Inc., the Texas Court of Appeals also found the ordinance unconstitutional.

The appeals court determined that the licensing revocation law was too subjective and vested the police chief with too much discretion to determine when a license should be revoked.

“The lack of guidance impermissibly grants the chief of police the ability to suspend licenses in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner,” the court wrote.

The court reasoned that a law which gives government officials unfettered discretion poses too great a risk that conduct protected by the First Amendment will be restricted if officials disagree with or dislike such conduct.

Although the court noted the First Amendment arguments, it based its opinion on due- process grounds. The court ruled the law was unconstitutionally vague because it “does not specifically, or even reasonably, inform licensees what conduct will make them subject to license suspension.”

Charles Quaid, attorney for the club, said: “This case, even though it was technically decided on due-process grounds, is a victory for freedom of expression. The reason the license revocation process was triggered, we believe, was because of public outcry after a federal judge ruled the dance hall did not have to close down and move to another location. City officials either retaliated against us in response to this prior lawsuit or this was simply another means for them to try to close us down.”

Quaid said that “the Texas appeals court took away Dallas city officials' veiled attempt to do back-door what they could not do through the front door because of the First Amendment.”

A call placed to the attorney who argued the case for Dallas officials was not returned.