Judge OKs Local Fireworks Restrictions in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – A federal judge in Des Moines dismissed a lawsuit by a Nebraska fireworks retailer that claimed four Iowa cities put too many restrictions on fireworks sales in their communities.

The lawsuit followed the state’s legalization of fireworks sales, which prompted some Iowa cities to tightly regulate where they could be sold.

After eight decades of barring in-state sales of fireworks other than small items such as sparklers, Iowa lawmakers last year made it legal to sell fireworks in the Hawkeye State again.

But Bellino Fireworks of Papillion, Nebraska sued the Iowa cities of Ankeny, Pleasant Hill, Boone and Johnston, arguing they put illegal restrictions on where fireworks could be sold in those cities, such as industrial zones.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger dismissed the lawsuit against all four cities on summary judgment Thursday, saying “zoning is a well-established municipal function.”

“The Iowa Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, ‘zoning decisions are an exercise of the police power to promote the health, safety, order and morals of society,’” she wrote.

Hugh Cain, a lawyer with the Des Moines firm of Hopkins and Huebner, which represented three of the cities, said Friday he did not have any comment to make beyond the ruling, which he said “does a good job for whatever I would have to say.”

A request for comment from a lawyer for Bellino Fireworks was not immediately returned Friday.

Bellino made four claims against each of the cities, arguing that the ordinances were pre-empted by state law, interfered with contracts and prospective business relationships, and violated the company’s due process rights. Judge Ebinger dismissed all four claims.

The judge rejected Bellino’s argument that state law pre-empted the cities’ ordinances restricting where fireworks may be sold within their boundaries.

For example, she wrote, the city of Ankeny’s ordinance saying “a licensed fireworks retailer may sell fireworks in Ankeny’s industrial zones” followed the requirements of state law and the state fire marshal’s rules.

State law “does not dictate in which zones fireworks must or may be sold; it instead allows for the sale of consumer fireworks and contains no language expressly or impliedly limiting a city’s zoning power,” Ebinger wrote.

The judge also wrote that Bellino “has not shown there is an actual controversy for the court to resolve.”

“Bellino does not allege any of the miscellaneous provisions it challenges — the site plan, the occupancy permit, the parking and loading requirements, the setback requirement — have caused it any injury,” Ebinger found.

Nor do the cities’ restrictions on fireworks sales violate Bellino’s substantive due process rights, the judge ruled.

“The majority of the cities prevent the sale of fireworks in certain zones: Ankeny and Pleasant Hill limit sales to heavy industrial districts and Boone limits sales to industrial or commercial zone,” she said. “Johnston requires a certificate of zoning compliance and a temporary use permit. These requirements do not shock the conscience nor are they arbitrary or capricious.”

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