Federal judge dismisses sex shop’s lawsuit against Gwinnett County

Tokyo Valentino Gwinnett sued the county in federal court because Gwinnett changed its laws to regulate sexual devices and move stores out of commercial areas. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Tokyo Valentino Gwinnett sued the county in federal court because Gwinnett changed its laws to regulate sexual devices and move stores out of commercial areas. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Gwinnett County’s adult entertainment ordinance.

But the lengthy legal battle initiated by Tokyo Valentino, an adult novelty shop near Gwinnett Place Mall, is complicated. And it’s not over.

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Tokyo Valentino filed its lawsuit in United States District Court in 2015, arguing that a county ordinance requiring licenses for adult entertainment shops was too vague and violated the store's rights to free speech and due process. Subsequent filings in the case challenged a new ordinance created by the county after the original lawsuit was launched. That ordinance added more restrictions, including one limiting where such adult shops could be located.

U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. granted a motion to dismiss the suit Monday, but his opinion addressed only Tokyo Valentino’s arguments against the original ordinance. Challenges to the new ordinance are likely to be left to another courtroom.

“Because Tokyo Valentino has not demonstrated that its alleged injury is redressable, or that it even suffered any actual harm as a result of the old regulations, its claims must be dismissed,” he wrote in his 18-page ruling, issued Monday.

When it applied for its original business license in May of 2015, Tokyo Valentino presented itself as an apparel and tobacco retailer. Less than two months later, it filed another license application, this time outlining its intention to sell sexual devices.

The county told Tokyo Valentino that it would need an adult entertainment license, and that a moratorium had been placed on the issuance of such licenses.

The shop then opted to file its federal lawsuit.

The county subsequently agreed to allow Tokyo Valentino to keep its doors open without an adult entertainment license for 90 days, at the end of which a preliminary hearing would be held.

In the meantime, however, the county passed its new adult entertainment ordinance that significantly stepped up restrictions on adult establishments. The county then filed a state court lawsuitasking for Tokyo Valentino to be shut down because it was in a zoning district that did not allow adult stores.

That case was eventually put on pauseso it would not disrupt the federal litigation. However, the federal judge's ruling this week abstained from addressing Tokyo Valentino's additional arguments about the county's new adult ordinance because of the state court case regarding those claims.

Where Monday’s ruling in the federal case leaves the state court lawsuit, however, was not immediately clear. But Tokyo Valentino could still be forced to shut down because of the current ordinance’s zoning restrictions.

Cary Wiggins, the Atlanta attorney representing Tokyo Valentino in both cases, said this week only that his team was “reviewing the order and exploring options.”

A spokesman for Gwinnett County declined to comment, citing a policy not to speak about ongoing litigation.

The county's current adult entertainment ordinance is also being challenged by another adult novelty store, Starship Enterprises. In January, the chain's two Gwinnett locations filed their own superior court civil lawsuit that argues the county's adult entertainment restrictions are too vague and based solely, and unconstitutionally, on "moral objections" to the distribution of sex toys.

A hearing is scheduled for mid-April.