(Chicago) – On Tuesday, December 20, 2016 in Cook County Circuit Court, the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo (Scalabrini) won a major victory in a chancery lawsuit pending before Judge Peter Flynn, who denied the motion to dismiss the Sisters’ Second Amended Complaint, which had been filed by lawyers for Club Allure, an adult strip club built right across the nuns’ backyard fence in Stone Park, IL. This victory gives the Sisters a potential legal basis for shutting down Club Allure permanently, as the Sisters’ chief claim was that Club Allure has qualified as a public nuisance – a building in which criminal acts of prostitution were being regularly committed over a long period, which the building’s owner had failed to abate after timely notice that he should do so.
Moreover, today’s good news closely followed the earlier good news the Sisters received just over a month ago when Stone Park’s Mayor, Beniamino Mazzulla, who doubles as the Village’s Liquor Commissioner, issued a multi-page ruling revoking Club Allure’s liquor license – a ruling that Club Allure has appealed to the Illinois State Liquor Control Board. While Club Allure’s lawyer, Robert Itzkow, claimed in a recent newspaper interview that the Club would soon reopen, as the mere filing of its appeal of the liquor license revocation triggered an automatic “stay” (suspension) of the order(s) appealed from, the lawyer who appeared for the Club this morning in Circuit Court advised Judge Flynn that the Club was still closed. She also argued that the liquor license revocation and closure sufficed to “moot” the Circuit Court case, rendering it superfluous and worthy of dismissal on that ground alone. But Judge Flynn held it wasn’t clear if the closure would continue. Thus he set January 31st as a new court date for the parties to report on the progress of the liquor appeal, as well as on a cross appeal of the liquor ruling by the Complainants in the liquor proceeding, residents of Stone Park, who are contending on appeal that the liquor license should have been revoked under state law as well as under the Stone Park Village ordinance, as Mazzulla had ruled.
The two recent rulings represent a dramatic turnabout for the Sisters, as it was almost a year ago when Judge Flynn had stricken the Sisters’ earlier claims that Club Allure had been built in violation of state and municipal zoning laws – a claim the Sisters have said they will appeal, if necessary. But last January, Judge Flynn also gave the Sisters leave to file an amended complaint, provided that they added specificity to their additional claims that Club Allure had been operated as an illicit (criminal) house of prostitution, as both a public (criminal) nuisance and a private nuisance bothersome to neighbors. The Sisters did timely file what some observers described as a “XXX-rated second amended complaint” (Count I) last April 18th, a filing signed and verified not by the Sisters themselves but by investigators whom Thomas More Society had hired and who witnessed the acts of prostitution which the amended pleading alleged in detail. Count II of the amended complaint (Count II) added further specificity in alleging that drunken brawls, noise, late-night screaming, public urination, flashing lights, and other negative “secondary effects” caused by the Club so badly interfered with the Sisters’ and other neighbors’ use and enjoyment of their respective properties as to constitute a private nuisance.
Club Allure’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint argued that Count I merely charged “lap dancing” and thus failed to allege actual criminal wrongdoing and that there had been no prior criminal prostitution charges against Club Allure. As for Count II, Club Allure again claimed that the amended complaint lacked enough specificity to survive dismissal. But Judge Flynn held that Count I did adequately allege the commission of acts of prostitution at Club Allure, which could not be brushed off a mere constitutionally protected expressive dancing as the “lap dancing” act the Club involved sexual contact for the purpose of causing sexual arousal or gratification. It did not matter whether an actual criminal prosecution had been brought before a private party’s lawsuit is brought under the Lewdness Public Nuisance Act, 740 ILCS 105/1, as sometimes prosecutors err in exercising their discretion not to prosecute. Count II, moreover, was pled with enough factual detail to proceed to trial where specific evidence would have to be adduced to prove an adequately serious interference with the use and enjoyment of the Sisters’ and neighbors’ property, as would offend a reasonable person.
The Thomas More Society, a public interest pro bono law firm, which represents the Sisters, not only hired the private investigators whose reports furnished the details about repeated acts of prostitution taking place in Club Allure, but also retained Scott D. Bergthold of Tennessee, a nationally recognized authority on adult businesses and author of Local Regulation of Adult Buinesses (Thomson Reuters, 2017 ed.), who argued the case for the Sisters this morning. Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of Thomas More Society, who hired Bergthold and accompanied him to court this morning, said: “We are very pleased with Judge Flynn’s rulings this morning, as are the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo (Scalabrini). Whether by means of a permanent revocation of its liquor license, or by means of our public and private nuisance lawsuit, the Sisters are committed to continue to pursue this litigation until Club Allure is permanently shut down to protect all our neighbors, nearby residents of both Stone Park and Melrose Park.” Brejcha added, “We will fight this case to the finish, and as we said at the beginning, we aim to win it for the Sisters and their neighbors.”