A judge has dismissed the lawsuit that strip club entrepreneur Shane Harrington filed against the Nebraska Legislature and several state officials.
In the suit, Harrington claimed that the officials conspired to shut down nude dancing at his establishments for moral and religious reasons. Harrington has operated a handful of clubs in central and eastern Nebraska, including Club Omaha near 72nd and Dodge Streets.
His lawyer, Jason Bruno of Omaha, said he is preparing an appeal. The ruling was “not entirely unanticipated” because, he said, district courts tend to be more reluctant to find laws unconstitutional.
“We were disappointed with the ruling,” Bruno said. “We think we are not a bottle club under the plain language of the definition.”
Bottle clubs are venues that allow patrons to bring in their own alcohol. The new state law that Harrington was contesting requires bottle clubs to obtain liquor licenses.
In the 24-page order, handed down Wednesday, Lancaster County District Court Judge Susan I. Strong said, among other things, that a state has broad power “to regulate the times, places, and circumstances under which liquor may be sold or consumed.”
She also denied a request by Harrington to temporarily block new state regulation of his business.
Supporters of the new state law argued that Harrington’s private clubs — which do not sell liquor but allow members to bring their own — were basically unregulated bars because they did not have to obtain a state liquor license.
Harrington, meanwhile, said new regulations were unnecessary because his business is well-run and patrons come for adult entertainment, not for binge drinking.
“No one goes into our club for the express purpose of drinking alcohol,” Bruno said. “They go there for the purpose of seeing live naked women.”
The ruling came as good news to supporters of the law. The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said it was pleased with the ruling and confident that it would be upheld upon appeal, an opinion echoed by State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha, who sponsored the bill.
“Obviously he has every right to appeal, but I am confident that the Court of Appeals will uphold Judge Strong’s opinion,” she said. “Her order ... was very detailed. ... I see no reason that the Court of Appeals would overturn her ruling.”
The lawsuit not only named the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, but also Gov. Pete Ricketts, four state liquor officials and other officeholders.
Bruno claimed in the lawsuit that the new law forced his client to close his Grand Island strip club and sell another club near Kearney along Interstate 80.
The only club Harrington currently operates is Club Omaha, at 7301 Farnam St., Bruno said.
One other bottle club in Nebraska affected by the new law, Shaker’s in Waverly, has chosen not to fight the new law, but filed to obtain a liquor license.
World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.