Sex-Shop Owner Says Georgia County Interfering With Its Business

ATLANTA (CN) – The owner of a chain of stores in Georgia and Tennessee that specialize in selling sex toys claims in court that Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, unlawfully pulled its commercial licenses in a bid to shut its businesses down.

In a complaint filed Jan. 26 in Gwinnett County Superior Court, Starship Enterprises of Atlanta, Inc., claims a new county ordinance requiring “sex paraphernalia store[s]” to either acquire a new adult license or remove all but 100 items which may be used for “sadomasochistic use or abuse of oneself of others,” violates the due process clause of the Georgia constitution.

Starship argues that the limitations imposed by the ordinance deprive the company “of its property rights and liberty interests to operate a business free from arbitrary and capricious interference from the government.”

The company objects to the use of the term “sadomasochistic use or abuse,” claiming that the phrase is purposely vague, lacks guidance, and “vest[s] the County with unbridled discretion to enforce [the ordinance] based upon subjective criteria and thus encourages discriminatory enforcement.”

The broadness of the language used in the ordinance has forced Starship to remove thousands of sex toys and novelty items from its stores.

The complaint also alleges that the county is unjustly interfering in Starship’s clients’ sex lives and violating their constitutional right to privacy. “Defendant’s ordinance restricting the number of “sex devices” that Starship may make “available for sale” infringes Starship’s clients’ fundamental due process privacy rights,” the complaint says.

Starship goes on to say that its fight isn’t just over privacy – it’s in response to what the sex shop views as a governmental attempt to legislate morality.

“Defendant seeks to restrict Starship’s distribution of items designed to stimulate the genital organs solely because of Defendant’s moral objections to the distribution of such items and to individuals who make use of them,” the complaint says. “Moral disapproval, like a base desire to harm, is an interest that is insufficient to satisfy rational basis review under the Equal Protection Clause.”

Gwinnett County spokesman Joe Sorenson declined to comment on the case, explaining that as a rule the county doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Starship is seeking an injunction prohibiting the county from enforcing restrictions on items it defines as sex devices or which it designates as for “sadomasochistic use or abuse.”

It also seeks a declaratory judgment finding that the ordinance violates due process privacy rights, infringes on Starship’s liberty and property rights, and that the language used in the ordinance is “impermissibly vague.”

Starship is represented by Cory Begner of Begner & Begner in Atlanta.

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