Sex shop wins a round in long-running dispute with Atlanta

Tokyo Valentino says city ordinance violates First Amendment rights

A sex shop has scored a win in its ongoing battle with the city of Atlanta.

A federal appeals court threw out an injunction against Tokyo Valentino Erotique and said its owner can challenge the constitutionality of Atlanta’s adult entertainment ordinance.

Atlanta has been trying for years to shut down the racy shop on Cheshire Bridge Road, arguing it’s located too close to residences. The June 7 decision from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals doesn’t address those concerns but sends the case back to the federal district court, where the adult entertainment megastore plans to argue the city ordinance violates its free speech rights.

“We just think this is great news for Cheshire, and we believe this is the writing on the wall that Cheshire is going to be there for many years to come,” said Daniel Aaronson, who argued the case for Tokyo Valentino along with attorneys Carry Wiggins and Gary Edinger. Aaronson was referencing Cheshire Bridge Holdings LLC, the parent company of Tokyo Valentino.

A spokesperson for the city of Atlanta said the city is evaluating its legal options.

The district court previously ruled in favor of Atlanta’s request for a permanent injunction and said Tokyo Valentino could not pursue its argument that the city was violating its First Amendment rights.

Owner Michael Morrison said they decided to argue against the constitutionality of the adult business ordinance because the city wouldn’t compromise. If the ordinance is struck down in court, there could be an influx in adult business applications across the city without zoning regulations for them.

“It creates a very precarious position for the city,” Morrison said. “Our contention has always been that we are an important, safe place for the gay community. We never wanted to upset the balance here in town because we are citizens here as well.”

The latest ruling extends a longstanding dispute between the city and the business that began even before Tokyo Valentino opened its doors in 1996.

Morrison won the first battle and spent almost two decades free of city interference until renewed efforts to close adult entertainment shops in this area in 2013 sparked a return to the courtroom.

Morrison sued the city in late 2015 for trying to shut down his business, and the next year the city hit back by hiring attorney Scott Bergthold, who specializes in defending adult business regulations. Bergthold also has affiliations with anti-LGBTQ groups, according to a Project Q article, though the city says it didn't realize his personal views before hiring.

Bergthold’s hiring took the case to a personal level,  Morrison said, considering Tokyo Valentino’s importance in Atlanta’s LGBTQ community.

“I can’t believe that a city that espouses its ethos to diversity would go hire an attorney who’s staunchly anti-gay and has been given money from various hate groups,” Morrison said.

After the most recent court decision, Atlanta is no longer working with Bergthold, a city of Atlanta spokesperson said. Morrison and his legal team are now waiting for the case to move back to the district court, where it will go back to summary judgment or trial.