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Edge v. City of Everett

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 3, 2019

Jovanna Edge, an individual; Leah Humphrey, an individual; Liberty Ziska, an individual; Amelia Powell, an individual; Natalie Bjerke, an individual; Matteson Hernandez, an individual, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
City of Everett, a Washington municipal corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted February 4, 2019 Seattle, Washington

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington Marsha J. Pechman, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:17-cv-01361-MJP

          Ramsey Everett Ramerman (argued), City of Everett, Everett, Washington; Sarah C. Johnson and Matthew J. Segal, Pacifica Law Group LLP, Seattle, Washington; for Defendant-Appellant.

          Melinda W. Ebelhar (argued) and Gerald M. Serlin, Benedon & Serlin LLP, Woodland Hills, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          Before: Sandra S. Ikuta and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges, and Jennifer Choe-Groves, [*] Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Constitutional Law / Preliminary Injunction

         The panel vacated the district court's preliminary injunction against enforcement of the City of Everett, Washington's Dress Code Ordinance-requiring that the dress of employees, owners, and operators of Quick-Service facilities cover "minimum body areas"-and the amendments to the Lewd Conduct Ordinances.

         Plaintiffs are owners and employees of a bikini barista stand in Everett, Washington.

         The panel held that plaintiffs did not show a likelihood of success on the merits of their two Fourteenth Amendment void-for-vagueness challenges, nor on their First Amendment free expression claim.

         Concerning the Lewd Conduct Ordinances, which expanded the definition of "lewd act" and also created the misdemeanor offense of Facilitating Lewd Conduct, the panel held that the activity the Lewd Contact Amendments prohibited was reasonably ascertainable to a person of ordinary intelligence. The panel also held that the Amendments were not amenable to unchecked law enforcement discretion. The panel concluded that the district court abused its discretion by holding that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their void-for-vagueness challenge to the Amendments.

         Concerning enjoinment of the enforcement of the Dress Code Ordinance, the panel held that the vagueness principles governing the panel's analysis of the Lewd Conduct Amendments applied with equal force to the Dress Code Ordinance. The panel concluded that the vagueness doctrine did not warrant an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Dress Code Ordinance. As to plaintiffs' First Amendment contention that the act of wearing almost no clothing while serving coffee in a retail establishment constituted speech, the panel held that plaintiffs had not demonstrated a "great likelihood" that their intended messages related to empowerment and confidence would be understood by those who view them. The panel concluded that the mode of dress at issue in this case was not sufficiently communicative to merit First Amendment protection. The panel also held that the district court's application of intermediate scrutiny under the "secondary effects" line of authority was inapposite, and the City need only demonstrate that the Dress Code Ordinance promoted a substantial government interest that would be achieved less effectively absent the regulation. Because the district court did not analyze the ordinance under this framework, the panel vacated the preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings.

          OPINION

          CHRISTEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         "Bikini barista" stands are drive-through businesses where scantily clad employees sell coffee and other nonalcoholic beverages. In Everett, Washington, a police investigation confirmed complaints that some baristas were engaging in lewd conduct at these establishments, that some baristas had been victimized by patrons, and that other crimes were associated with the stands. The City responded by adopting Everett Municipal Code (EMC) § 5.132.010-060 (the Dress Code Ordinance) requiring that the dress of employees, owners, and operators of Quick-Service Facilities cover "minimum body areas." Separately, the City also broadened its lewd conduct misdemeanor by expanding the Everett Municipal Code's definition of "lewd act" to include the public display of specific parts of the body. EMC § 10.24.010. The City also created a new misdemeanor called Facilitating Lewd Conduct for those who permit, cause or encourage lewd conduct. EMC § 10.24.020.

         A stand owner and several baristas sued the City pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that the Dress Code Ordinance and the amendments to the Lewd Conduct Ordinances violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoined enforcement of these provisions. The City appeals. We have jurisdiction over the City's interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292. Because we conclude that plaintiffs did not show a likelihood of success on the merits of their two Fourteenth Amendment void-for-vagueness challenges, nor on their First Amendment free expression claim, we vacate the district court's preliminary injunction and remand this case for further proceedings.

         I. Factual Background

         Bikini barista stands have operated in and around Everett since at least 2009. The baristas working at these stands wear what they call "bikinis," but the City describes them as "nearly nude employees," and the district court made clear that their attire is significantly more revealing than a typical bikini. The district court's finding that at least some of the baristas wear little more than pasties and g-strings is well-supported by the record.

         Beginning in summer 2009, the Everett Police Department (EPD) began fielding numerous citizen complaints related to bikini barista stands. One complainant asserted that she observed a female barista wearing "pasties" and "a thong and what appeared to be garter belts sitting perched in the window with her feet on the ledge[.]" The complainant went on to describe how a customer in a truck approached the window and began "groping" the barista in intimate areas. According to the complainant, "the next customer in line . . . was clearly touching his genitals through his clothes as he was waiting his turn." Stuck in traffic, the complainant wrote that she "had to sit there w/ my 2 young daughters and was so disgusted[.]"

         After receiving upwards of forty complaints, EPD launched an undercover investigation and documented that some baristas at this type of stand were openly violating the existing criminal code prohibiting various forms of lewd conduct. At the time, EMC § 10.24.010 defined lewd conduct to include exposure or display of one's genitals, anus or any portion of the areola or nipple of the female breast, but EPD's investigation revealed that some of the bikini baristas removed their costumes entirely. EPD also discovered that some baristas were not paid hourly wages and worked for tips only, resulting in pressure to engage in lewd acts, and that other baristas were paid wages but still performed lewd acts in exchange for large tips. Everett undercover police officers took a series of graphic photos documenting the extremely revealing nature of the baristas' garb and instances in which baristas removed their tops and bottoms altogether. Officers also documented a wide variety of customer-barista physical contact. At least one bikini stand owner was convicted of sexually exploiting a minor after he was caught employing a sixteen-year old at one of the bikini stands. See State v. Wheeler, No. 72660-9-I, 2016 WL 1306132, at *1-3 (Wash.Ct.App. 2016). Another stand turned out to be a front for a prostitution ring, and some of the baristas, who worked in isolated locations late at night, reported being victims of sexual violence. A Snohomish County Sheriff's Deputy was convicted of a criminal offense after helping an owner evade the City's undercover officers in exchange for sexual favors.

         Enforcing the City's existing lewd conduct ordinance required extensive use of undercover officers and proved to be both expensive and time consuming. The City also complained that policing the stands detracted from EPD's efforts to address the City's other priorities.

         After five years of using undercover operations to prosecute individual offenders, EPD decided its "investigative approach was an ineffective and resource-intensive method of motivating stand owners to stop the illegal conduct" and it began collaborating with the City on a legislative fix. The City complied by enacting EMC §§ 5.132.010-060, a Dress Code Ordinance applicable only to "Quick-Service Facilities" like drive-throughs and coffee stands. The City also amended its criminal code to broaden the definition of "lewd act" and created the crime of Facilitating Lewd Conduct. See EMC §§ 10.24.010; 10.24.025. Because the constitutional challenges in this case focus on the text and effect of these enactments, we describe each in some detail.

         A. The Lewd ...


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