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Lawsuit filed challenging spring break ordinances dropped

Right now, thousands of college students are hitting beaches and tourist attractions throughout Florida, soaking up the sun and enjoying some time away from their studies on spring break.

Curiously, one destination that has seen its number of spring breakers decline precipitously over the month of March is Panama City Beach, a reality that many have attributed to a host of rather strict ordinances passed by the city council and Bay County officials in late 2015 in an effort to crack down on the perceived public safety risks posed by the annual celebration.

While a complete breakdown of all the ordinances is outside the scope of a single blog post, some of the more notable include:

  • Changing closing time for establishments that serve alcohol from 4 am to 2 am during March
  • Prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in commercial parking lots during March
  • Banning alcohol on the beach during March and requiring an ID at all other times of the year
  • Authorizing law enforcement to shut down a house party if they identify it as a "public nuisance"
  • Outlawing anyone under the age of 21, except military personnel, from entering any establishment that serves alcohol after midnight   

While these ordinances generated considerable controversy, they also generated a federal lawsuit this past October courtesy of the owners of three Panama City Beach clubs who alleged that they violated the First Amendment rights of hired performers and the Civil Rights Act given their latent racial animus.

In recent developments, the three club owners have voluntarily dropped the case against the city, indicating that they had regretted filing it and wanted to work with the city regarding the ordinances going forward. Furthermore, they cited a need to put the focus back on their respective business, which they maintain has dropped by 90 percent since the passage of the ordinances.

Reports indicate that the decision to drop the case is perhaps not surprising given that the presiding federal judge recently denied the issuance of a preliminary injunction shelving the ordinances for the year.

While the federal lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the club owners are technically free to re-file it in the future, early indications are that this is highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if Panama City Beach's new ordinances are once again challenged in court and if the city ultimately softens its stance after the final figures from this year's spring break are tallied.  

If you have questions or concerns related to a business matter, or would like to learn more about your options as they relate to business litigation, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional.

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