City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.

PETITIONER: City of Renton
RESPONDENT: Playtime Theatres, Inc.
LOCATION: Playtime Theatres, Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 84-1360
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 475 US 41 (1986)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1985
DECIDED: Feb 25, 1986

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr. - Argued the cause for the appellants
Jack R. Burns - Argued the cause for the appellees

Facts of the case

The city of Renton, Washington, enacted a zoning ordinance that prohibited adult motion picture theaters from locating with in 1,000 feet of "any residential zone, single-or multiple-family dwelling, church, park, or school." Playtime Theatres, Inc., challenged the ordinance and sought a permanent injunction against its enforcement.


Did the Renton ordinance violate either the First or Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1985 in City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear argument this morning in The City of Renton, et al. v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., et al. Mr. Prettyman, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case, which comes here from the Ninth Circuit, involves an attempt by a small city in the State of Washington to zone adult theatres away from residence, churches, parks and schools.

You'll recall that in 1976 in Young [= v.] American Min Theatres, you upheld a Detroit ordinance which treated adult theatres differently than general fare theatres because of the adverse secondary effects caused by the adult theatres.

The City of Renton's attempt began more than a year before any adult theatres had actually come into the city, but the secondary effects of these theatres had been perceived nearby in the State of Washington, in the City of Tacoma, in the City of Spokane, and just a mile to the north in the City of Seattle, which had had its own case which had gone through the state supreme court.

This Court had denied certiorari.

The zoning ordinance in that case has been upheld.

Renton wanted to deal with this problem before it became a problem.

It wanted to obviate these secondary effects before they ever got into the city, because, quite candidly, some other cities, as a result of Young, had attempted to deal with specific situations in front of them, and those ordinances had been struck down.

So, Renton, during the following year, the City Council, through its committees studied what had happened in other cities.

It looked at the opinions that had come down in other places; not just in the State of Washington but in other cities as well.

It held a number of meetings.

These were public meetings.

In some of them it listened to citizens voice their concerns.

These citizens were not only from Renton but from some from nearby cities.

And it finally passed one of three ordinances.

The first ordinance prohibited the location of adult theatres within 1,000 feet of residences, of single or multi-family dwellings, churches, or parks.

As to schools, this first ordinance provided that adult theatres could not be located within a mile of these schools.

That was later reduced in the second ordinance to 1,000 feet.

After the first ordinance was passed, Appellees, whom i'll call Playtime, brought a suit in Renton seeking declaratory judgment and an injunction based on their First Amendment rights anti equal protection.

And they shortly thereafter, virtually within the same week, brought two existing general fare theatres in downtown Renton, in one of which they said they intended to show adult fare on a regular basis.

The result of our second ordinance, when you drew circles around the areas that these theatres could not locate next to, in effect created a permissive or set-aside zone in the City of Renton which consisted of some 520 acres.

This is, incidentally, a larger area than the entire commercial area of the City of Renton, and it is more acres than all of the multi-family residences in the City of Renton.

The district court said that--

William H. Rehnquist:

Now many square miles in the--

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr.:

--Pardon me?

William H. Rehnquist:

--How many square miles in the city?

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr.:

It's 15.3 square miles, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

And 520 acres would be somewhat less than a square mile.

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr.:

Yes, sir.