Ordering Poolrooms Closed at 2 a.m. Violates Equal Protection
In a split decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that the City of Riverside's requirement that poolrooms be closed from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. is unconstitutional because it denies poolroom owners equal protection under the law.
Noting that the ordinance dates back to 1909, Acting Presiding Justice Thomas Hollenhorst wrote for the majority: "Unfortunately, times are different today, and there are many establishments that cater to idleness and are open all night. The City cannot rationally claim that it is fighting crime merely by closing down poolrooms for four hours each morning."
In dissent, Justice James Ward concluded that the city's decision to single out poolrooms is a legislative prerogative that the court should not overturn. "The majority's opinion essentially takes the City of Riverside to task for passing an ordinance without a rational basis," he wrote. "There was a rational basis for the City's decision and it is not for us to second guess the legislative body."
The case emerged from Riverside's attempt to regulate poolrooms more strictly after several new ones opened in the city in the early 1990s. Having regulated poolrooms in some form since 1909, the city has required a special zoning permit for poolrooms since 1972. After two decades of little poolroom activity, however, four new poolrooms applied for permits in 1991. At the time, the permit process simply required a city investigation of the applicants and their backgrounds. Seeking more stringent regulations, the City Council imposed a moratorium on new poolroom permits and ordered the city attorney and the police department to draft a new poolroom ordinance.
In 1992, the police department presented a draft ordinance to the Riverside City Council land use committee that called for closing poolrooms between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. However, the police department did not conduct any analysis of crime at poolrooms during the nighttime or in comparison to any other public amusements that are open all night. After some changes by the city attorney, the new ordinance — with the hours restrictions — was adopted by the City Council. Poolrooms were expected to abide by it by March of 1993. Subsequently, the City Council amended the poolroom ordinance to state that public safety concerns required the restriction of hours.
Jim Estavanovich, owner of Mr. Cue's Family Billiards, sued, claiming his constitutional rights had been violated. After a trial, a Riverside County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Estavanovich. The city was enjoined from enforcing the hours, and Estavanovich was awarded inverse condemnation damages of $17,800. The city appealed, claiming that Estavanovich failed to establish that the ordinance is unconstitutional on its face.
On appeal, Justice Hollenhorst placed great emphasis on the fact that the ordinance singled out poolrooms rather than all places of public amusement. "It is clear that the regulation of crime is a legitimate use of the police power," he wrote. "Further, since places of amusement and poolrooms are not suspect classes, a city can regulate either places of amusement or poolrooms for public safety reasons. On the other hand, it is an entirely different question whether a law that separates poolrooms from all other places of amusement, and all other places open late at night, creates a rational classification — and not an arbitrary distinction."
Hollenhorst went on to criticize the city for singling out poolrooms. "A darts parlor or bowling alley would be allowed to remain open all night, but a poolroom would not. It is irrational to believe that the closing of the poolroom in a bowling alley at 2 a.m. will discourage criminal activity when the persons playing pool can remain in the bowling alley."
Hollenhorst also concluded that "it is not even clear that there is any significant crime to regulate at poolrooms" because the few statistics the city police provided on this topic addressed only police calls to poolrooms and did not compare them to other public amusements. Among other things, the police statistics showed that almost all of the poolroom police calls between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. originated from one pool hall and most of them dealt with activity at a nearby drug house.
"In the absence of any reason to associate crime with poolrooms as opposed to other places of amusement," Hollenhorst concluded, "it is irrational for the City to single them out from other establishments and shut them down during certain hours. This classification scheme is arbitrary, discriminatory, and unconstitutional."
In his dissent, Justice Ward argued that the city was entitled to a presumption of constitutionality and that Estavanovich had failed to establish that his equal protection rights had been violated. Ward was especially critical of the majority for "reading into" the text of the ordinance and seeking to overturn a legislative decision.
"The question before this court is not whether we agree with the City's decision to close poolrooms between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.," he wrote. "It is not our job to make that judgment call. This is a legislative prerogative. We merely have to find it debatable whether restricting the operating hours of pool halls will accomplish the stated goals of the legislative body. I find it debatable. The plaintiffs' burden is to convince us that it was irrational for the City to believe the regulation of hours of operation would achieve its goals. They have not convinced me."
Estavanovich v. City of Riverside, No. E018016, 99 Daily Journal D.A.R. 845, 99 C.D.O.S. 713 (issued January 25, 1999).
For Estavanovich: Harry H. Histen, (909) 682-4121.
For City of Riverside: Gregory P. Priamos, Supervising Deputy City Attorney, (909) 782-5567.