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City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. A zoning ordinance prohibited adult movie theatres from being located within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, church, park or school. The Respondent, Playtime Theatres, Inc. (Respondent), claimed that the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (Constitution) were violated by the city ordinance.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Content-neutral time, place, and manner regulations are acceptable so long as they are designed to serve a substantial government interest and do not unreasonably limit alternative avenues of communication.

    Facts. The Respondent purchased two theatres in Renton, Washington for the purpose of showing adult films. The Respondent filed suit in Federal District Court seeking an injunction and declaratory judgment claiming that the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution were violated by a city ordinance, which prohibited adult motion picture theatres from being located within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, single or multiple-family dwelling, church, park or school. The District Court entered summary judgment in favor of the Petitioner, the City of Renton (Petitioner), holding that the ordinance did not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution. On reversal, the Court of Appeals held that the ordinance constituted a substantial restriction on First Amendment constitutional interests and remanded the case for reconsideration as to whether the city had substantial interests to support the ordinance.

    Issue. Was the zoning ordinance an acceptable time, place, and manner restriction when it outlawed adult movie theaters within 1000 feet of any residential zone, church, park, or school?

    Held. Yes. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. Justice William H. Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court. Content-neutral time, place, and manner regulations are acceptable so long as they are designed to serve a substantial government interest and do not unreasonably limit alternative avenues of communication.

    Dissent. Justice William J. Brennan (J. Brennan) and Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall) dissented stating that the ordinance discriminates based on content. The record presented to support the asserted interest is very thin. Even if the ordinance should be treated as time, place, manner restriction, it is still invalid because it does not leave open reasonable alternative avenues of communication.

    Discussion. The Petitioner’s ordinance does not ban adult theaters altogether, but rather provides that such theatres may not be located in certain areas. Thus, it is a time, place, manner restriction. The Petitioner’s City Council was predominately concerned with the secondary effects of adult theaters and not with the content of the adult films themselves. The secondary effects were crime, the effects on the city’s retail trade, property values, and the effects on the general quality of urban life. The ordinance was not designed to suppress the expression of unpopular views. It was designed to serve the substantial government interests of crime prevention, protection of retail trade, maintenance of property values and the protection of the quality of life. The ordinance allowed for reasonable alternative avenues of communication by leaving open areas of land in which to place an adult theater. The fact that the land may be substantially already in use is of no significance. The Fir
    st Amendment of the Constitution does not compel the government to ensure that adult theaters will be able to obtain property sites.


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