Smoking-ban lawsuits face long odds, legal expert says

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Ten bar owners who are taking Indianapolis to court over a new citywide smoking ban that takes effect Friday at 6 a.m. stand little chance of stopping the ordinance, an Indianapolis law professor predicts.

The federal suits, filed over the past two weeks, claim the ordinance violates the Fourth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the 14th Amendment provides equal protection under the law.

The owners, who are representing themselves without an attorney, say they’re being deprived of the same rights afforded to private clubs, which are exempt from the ban.

They also charge that the ban violates other sections of the Constitution by allowing smoking in bars in Beech Grove, Lawrence, Speedway and Southport, also  located within Marion County.

The bar owners are asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to halt the ban until their arguments are heard.

The ordinance, signed by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard April 19, expands existing citywide restrictions against indoor public smoking to include bowling alleys, hotel rooms and most bars. Tobacco shops, hookah bars, existing not-for-profit private clubs and downtown's off-track betting parlor are exempt from the ban.

David Orentlicher, a constitutional law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, said he doubts the lawsuits will succeed.

“We’ve had smoking bans in a lot of states for quite some time, and there is no question about their constitutional validity,” he said. “You’re regulating businesses, and the Constitution allows that.”

The bar owners' Fourth Amendment argument would pertain to fair enforcement of the law rather than its passage, Orentlicher said. And to bring a 14th Amendment claim, the owners would need to argue that the ban is perhaps discriminatory by targeting a specific race or gender.

“They would have to prove [that the city is] acting on biases rather than legitimate public policy,” Orentlicher said. “There’s nothing in the smoking ban that suggests that.”

Rhoda Walker, who owns the Casino Lounge at 1711 E. Minnesota St., disagrees, saying that the smoking rights afforded to private clubs and other bars within Marion County are a violation of her constitutional rights.

“You can’t give one group rights and take them away from the other group,” she said. “Why would they come to my bar when they can go to Beech Grove and smoke.”

Other bars challenging the ban are Blue Chaparral, 5030 Southeastern Ave.; Catalina Bar, 3032 E. Washington St.; Colonial Inn, 4343 Madison Ave.; DJ’s Lounge, 1707 Prospect St.; Dancers, 8013 W. Washington St.; Maggie’s Lounge, 453 N. Rural St.; Riff Raff’s Bar, 2409 English Ave.; Road Dog Saloon, 4861 Southeastern Ave.; and Sugar Shack, 5560 Brookville Road

Meanwhile, City officials say they haven’t seen the lawsuits but are not surprised considering that similar challenges have been filed in other cities with smoking bans.

“We’re confident we’re going to prevail,” said Mark Lotter, spokesman for Ballard.

Tobacco specialty bars need to apply for a new license from the city’s Department of Code Enforcement to allow smoking in their establishments. The department has identified about a dozen that should apply for the specialty license. As of Tuesday, only three had applied, said Kate Johnson, spokeswoman for the department.

Those are Nicky Blaines at 20 N. Meridian St.; Indy Cigar Bar at 3357 E. 86th St.; and Egyptian Cafe & Hookah Bar at 6265 Carrollton Ave.

Those that fail to apply for the license will receive a “uniform traffic ticket” with a court date. The city prosecutor will drop the charge if they apply for a license before their court date, Johnson said.

To ensure bars are complying with the ban, the city has 24 property, safety and maintenance inspectors who can investigate violation complaints the city might receive.

The first citation is a $100 fine, the second is $200 and the third will lead to an appearance in the city’s environmental court, where a judge might levy a $2,500 penalty.

Citations can be issued to the bar or property owner, as well as the smoker.

Although the city will rely on citizen complaints to drive enforcement, Johnson said businesses that choose to ignore the ban won’t fly under the radar for long.

“We’ll do a lot of sweeps,” she said.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues