Evansville Bar Owners Open Second Front in Legal War on Smoking Ban
Taverns ask federal judge to find equal-protection violation
Evansville bar owners are taking their legal battle against the city's smoking ban to federal court.
At least 11 challenges to smoking bans have failed nationwide, including a lawsuit in state court against the Evansville ordinance by the same bar and club operators.
But attorney Les Shively contends Evansville's ordinance creates a federal equal-protection claim the others didn't, because it exempts the city's Casino Aztar. Shively argues bars and clubs both can hold limited gaming licenses, while the casino serves food and alcohol -- he says that leaves no reason to give the casino an exemption and not the other two.
The bars and clubs are seeking unspecified damages for what Shively says is a drop in business since the ordinance took effect in April. They're also continuing to pursue their state challenge in the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Indianapolis bar owners have their own federal lawsuit pending against Marion County's smoking ban, on similar grounds. In that case, the taverns contend it's the private clubs that have an unfair exemption -- unlike the Evansville ordinance, Indy's version allows clubs to vote to permit smoking.
The Indianapolis suit also argues Marion County's UniGov structure creates an equal-protection violation, because the ordinance doesn't cover the so-called "excluded cities" of Southport, Beech Grove and Speedway.
A statewide smoking ban which took effect this month exempts bars, clubs and casinos.