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HICKERSON v. CITY OF NEW YORK

March 6, 1998

RACHEL HICKERSON, et al., Plaintiffs, against THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants. AMSTERDAM VIDEO INC., et al., Plaintiffs, - against - THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CEDARBAUM

 CEDARBAUM, J.

 Plaintiffs in these two actions move for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction staying enforcement of Text Amendment N 950384 to the Zoning Resolution of the City of New York (the "Amended Zoning Resolution"), which regulates the zoning of "adult establishments." *fn1" The motion is denied for the reasons that follow.

 In a case in which the moving party seeks to stay governmental action taken in the public interest pursuant to a statutory or regulatory scheme, the issuance of a preliminary injunction requires the movant to demonstrate both irreparable harm and a likelihood of success on the merits. NAACP v. Town of East Haven, 70 F.3d 219, 223 (2d Cir. 1995). This standard is particularly appropriate where a municipal regulation has been carefully examined by all of the courts of the state, including the highest court, and its validity has been upheld under a state constitution that provides broad protection for individual rights.

 A violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is itself irreparable harm. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373-74, 49 L. Ed. 2d 547, 96 S. Ct. 2673 (1976). Accordingly, when an injunction is sought to protect First Amendment rights, likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm merge into a single threshold requirement. Preliminary injunctive relief is not warranted in this case because plaintiffs have not shown likelihood of success on the merits.

 BACKGROUND

 Plaintiffs in the Hickerson action are Manhattan and Bronx residents who allege that they regularly patronize adult establishments. They claim that the Amended Zoning Resolution will prevent them from continuing to patronize the adult establishments they currently frequent, and will reduce significantly the number of alternative establishments available to them. Plaintiffs in the Amsterdam action are owners and operators of business establishments which they allege are adult establishments as defined by the Amended Zoning Resolution. They allege that the resolution will force them to terminate the operation of their businesses and thereby cause them significant economic harm.

 Both groups of plaintiffs originally sued in the Supreme Court for New York County, asserting claims of violation of freedom of expression under the New York Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. Defendants, the City of New York and three city officials, removed the actions to this Court because of the federal questions presented by the complaints. Plaintiffs promptly sought to return to the state court by moving to remand the actions in their entirety. On June 27, 1996, plaintiffs' motions to remand were granted in part and denied in part. Under the doctrine of abstention of Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 85 L. Ed. 971, 61 S. Ct. 643 (1941), all of plaintiffs' state claims were remanded to New York County Supreme Court, while the federal claims were stayed pending resolution of the state claims. Hickerson v. City of New York, 932 F. Supp. 550 (S.D.N.Y. 1996).

 State Court Proceedings

 After remand of the state constitutional claims, defendants moved for summary judgment on those claims. Before defendants filed their summary judgment motion, plaintiffs conducted some discovery, including a deposition of Marilyn Mammano, a staff person at the Department of City Planning.

 In support of summary judgment, defendants submitted a number of affidavits and virtually the entire legislative record of the Amended Zoning Resolution, including various studies and reports on adult businesses, the records of public hearings related to the Amended Zoning Resolution, and maps purporting to show permissible locations for the operation of adult establishments under the law. In opposition to the defendants' motion, plaintiffs submitted numerous affidavits and legal memoranda, including an extensive affidavit from a land use expert, R. Bruce McLaughlin. McLaughlin's affidavit addressed the availability of alternative sites for the businesses required by the Amended Zoning Resolution to close or relocate. It appears from McLaughlin's affidavit that he had been studying the matter for many months. According to the affidavit, McLaughlin personally visited every one of the more than 500 sites identified by the defendants as available for adult establishments. Moreover, documents attached to the affidavit included an analysis prepared in August 1995, while the Amended Zoning Resolution was under consideration and approximately one year before defendants moved for summary judgment.

 On October 23, 1996, Justice Marylin G. Diamond of the New York County Supreme Court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' state constitutional claims. Stringfellow's of New York, Ltd. v. City of New York, 171 Misc. 2d 376, 653 N.Y.S.2d 801 (N.Y. County 1996), aff'd, 241 A.D.2d 360, 663 N.Y.S.2d 812 (1st Dep't 1997), aff'd, 91 N.Y.2d 382, 694 N.E.2d 407, 671 N.Y.S.2d 406, 1998 WL 77749 (N.Y. Ct. App. 1998). Justice Diamond found that the Amended Zoning Resolution was not an attempt to regulate speech but rather was motivated by concerns other than those related to speech, and, in particular, by a reasonable belief that adult establishments produce undesirable secondary effects such as neighborhood deterioration, crime and decreased property values. Justice Diamond found that, in enacting the Amended Zoning Resolution, the City reasonably relied on a number of studies undertaken in New York City and elsewhere concerning the secondary effects of adult establishments. She also found that the Amended Zoning Resolution is no broader than is necessary to address the negative effects associated with adult establishments.

 Finally, Justice Diamond found that the Amended Zoning Resolution provides ample space for adult establishments, leaving almost 4% of New York City's total land area available for use by such establishments. She stated that defendants had "more than sufficiently demonstrated that the permissible areas are suitable for commercial enterprise and are large enough to accommodate adult establishments which must relocate. While plaintiffs have labored mightily to create issues of fact, none exist." Id. at 814. This conclusion was based in part on the specific analysis provided in the affidavit of William Bernstein, First Deputy Executive Director of the Department of City Planning, and other affidavits submitted by the defendants, who represented that approximately 500 potential relocation sites existed in New York City. She also considered McLaughlin's affidavit, which concluded that the actual number of available alternative sites was much smaller than the 500 or so claimed by the defendants. Justice Diamond found that McLaughlin's methodology was "fatally flawed" because it unjustifiably eliminated a number of sites based on factors that McLaughlin claimed make certain sites unavailable. Id. at 812. These factors included the undeveloped state of the proposed site, suitability for some "generic commercial enterprise," presence of a long-term lessee, current use as a parking lot and lease clauses prohibiting adult uses. Noting that such factors have been repeatedly rejected by state and federal courts, Justice Diamond found that McLaughlin and plaintiffs failed to rebut defendants' evidence that ample sites were available for the relocation of adult establishments. In so doing, she stated:

 
Although 10 months have passed since McLaughlin states he obtained zoning maps maintained by the DCP, he claims that he cannot estimate the acreage size of the permissible zones because of lack of time. He also fails to offer his own number of potential relocation sites under either the ...

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