By: Paul Goldberg, Staff Writer

Another hit in the war against brick & mortar adult stores and county officials who wish to push their conservative family values upon others as ‘U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr.’ on Monday March 27, dismissed the lawsuit filed by adult novelty store Tokyo Valentino where the store challenged the constitutionality of Gwinnett County’s adult entertainment zoning ordinance.

The owner of adult novelty shop Tokyo Valentino, Michael Morrison, (pictured right) who has been fighting this battle ever since he opened his shop near Gwinnett Place Mall in 2015.

Tokyo Valentino filed their lawsuit in United States District Court in 2015 stating that …”A county ordinance requiring licenses for adult entertainment shops was too vague and violated the store’s rights to free speech and due process.”

This all started over a new ordinance created by the county after the original lawsuit was launched in 2015. That ordinance added more restrictions to adult shops including limiting where adult stores could be located in the county.

U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. granted a motion to dismiss the suit but left open a window for adult stores. Writing in his opinion, Judge Thrash Jr., only highlighted Tokyo Valentino’s arguments against the original city ordinance. Thereby leaving the door open for more challenges to the new ordinance which all legal scholars say are sure to come in more courtrooms.

“Because Tokyo Valentino has not demonstrated that its alleged injury is redressable, or that it even suffered any actual harm as a result of the old regulations, its claims must be dismissed,” wrote Judge Thrash Jr. in his 18-page ruling, issued March 27.

According to county officials, when Tokyo Valentino originally applied for its business license in May of 2015, the company presented itself as an apparel and tobacco retailer. Less than two months later, it filed another license application in which this time out, state that they intend to sell sexual devices.

The county told Tokyo Valentino that it would need an adult entertainment license, and that a moratorium had been placed on the issuance of such licenses. That is when Tokyo Valentino filed their first federal lawsuit against the county.

Shocked by the lawsuit, county zoning board officials agreed to allow Tokyo Valentino to keep their shops open without an adult entertainment license for a period of 90 days and at the end of said period, a preliminary hearing would be held on the adult entertainment license.

While this was going through the 90 day period, county officials pulled a fast one on Tokyo Valentino by immediately passing a new adult entertainment ordinance that significantly stepped up restrictions on adult entertainment businesses on where they can operate within county lines. If that wasn’t enough, county officials moved forward by filing their own lawsuit in state court asking for the adult shop to be closed because the adult business was in a zoning district that did not permit adult entertainment establishments of any kind.

Where Monday’s ruling in the federal case leaves the state court lawsuit, however, was not immediately clear. But Tokyo Valentino could still be forced to shut down because of the current ordinance’s zoning restrictions.

First Amendment Center’ president, Ken Paulson, said…”More and more governments are using so-called adverse secondary effects to rezone adult stores into other areas. The idea is that they are zoning to keep crime, prostitution and drugs — which some studies have tied to adult entertainment — away from as many populated areas as possible”, said Paulson.

Michael Morrison said he adopted the name of his adult shop because it was his childhood nickname. He added that he had a lot of Japanese friends and was considered a ladies’ man”, said Morrison.

According to Morrison, he decided to open the Tokyo Valentino in Gwinnett after researching where people were searching for adult retail and entertainment in Google. Morrison, who owned the Inserection brick & mortar chain before selling it in 2008, has plans to open 10 more adult novelty stores in the metro area. Morrison further states that he also has stores in Brookhaven, on Cheshire Bridge Road in Atlanta and one shop in Miami.

We reached out for a statement from Gwinnett County’s media relations department but was told that they had no comment on the matter citing county policy not to comment about ongoing litigation.

Tokyo Valentino attorney Cary Wiggins who is representing the adult novelty store in both cases, said that his legal team was “reviewing the order and exploring options.”

Morrison went on air to speak with WSB Radio’s Sandra Parrish…”We don’t sell enough in our stock and trade to be an adult store,” Morrison told Parrish. “Back in the day, we sold so much more with the DVDs and the adult viewing booths; this is just a retail store that just has some adult toys in it.” said Morrison.

For the record, Gwinnett County’s current adult entertainment ordinance is also being challenged by popular adult novelty store, Starship Enterprises who operates two brick & mortar locations in Gwinnett County.

They filed their own state court civil lawsuit against the county arguing “The adult entertainment restrictions ordinance are too vague and based solely, and unconstitutionally, on “moral objections” to the distribution of sex toys.

We will keep you posted on new developments in this case. In my opinion, “Unfortunately the battle will continue to fight for the business owners to exercise their constitutional rights to open a business, provide jobs, tax revenue and support for its community against ideological people placed in power who wish to keep people in the dark ages.”

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