Federal judge rules Club Onyx may only operate as restaurant without ‘entertainers’

Judge also orders in favor of the city of Houston against claims of First and Fourth Amendments violations, notes uncertainty from State

Houston strip club says it is opening at midnight

HOUSTON – A federal judge ruled Friday that Club Onyx Houston can only operate as a restaurant without adult entertainment, even if they were fully clothed, according to court documents.

This decision represents the latest legal decision between Trump Inc., the company that operates the club, and the city of Houston.

Nonetheless, Onyx Houston stopped featuring “nude” entertainment this week, according to court documents. Dancers were required to “wear full tops and full bathing suit bottoms."

The strip club changed its entertainment policy after Gov. Greg Abbot clarified Tuesday that sexually oriented businesses may only offer restaurant services and prohibited from providing any other services, according to court documents.

Since Onyx Houston operates as a “sexually oriented business, they are prohibited from offering both restaurant services and entertaining, even if the entertainers are fully clothed,” U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore wrote in the order Friday.

Officials raid Houston Oxyn after reopening on May 1

In multiple social media posts, Houston Oxyn announced the club was reopening when the statewide “stay home” orders lifted at midnight on May 1. The strip club is at 3113 Bering Drive in southwest Houston.

While adult entertainment venues were not allowed to reopen, the club said it was operating as a restaurant with “featured Entertainers.” The club vowed to follow the state guidelines and health recommendations of social distancing and maintaining hygiene.

But, the show didn’t last too long.

Houston Police Department and the fire marshal raided and shut the club down Friday. A few hours later, the owners filed and won a temporary restraining order against the city.

Eric Langan, 52, the club’s owner said he was willing to go to jail if that allowed his business to remain open.

“Why are you punishing people who want to go to work? Who are following your rules?” Langan asked in an interview with KPRC 2 on May 2. “How am I any less safe here than I am at Walmart, or HEB, or Sam’s?”

Onyx Houston argued that the city violated First and Fourth Amendment protections for unconstitutional searches and seizures, which violated the plaintiff’s due process rights and right to free speech, per the documents.

The suit also named — the Houston Police Department, the Houston Fire Department, and unnamed police officers and fire department officers — as co-defendants, according to court documents.

The owner said the club met the requirements of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders, which permitted some “non-essential” businesses, such as dine-in services at restaurants and retail, to reopen at 25% capacity.

While the temporary restraining order allowed Oynx Houston to reopen and continue to operate, the judge ruled in the favor of the city Friday.

The judge denied the club’s motion for a preliminary injunction and ruled in favor of the city against the allegations of violating the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and due process claims filed by the club owner.

“The City of Houston is only responsible for lawfully enforcing the Governor’s orders," Gilmore wrote in the order.

The judge noted the nightclub “failed to add the State as a party to this action to address the First Amendment and equal protection issues raised by the Governor’s orders."

Confusion from state officials

Despite ruling in favor of the city, Gilmore was “compelled to point out the constitutional problems raised by the Governor’s various orders.”

“The fact that the Governor has now apparently decided jail time is too harsh of a mentality for violation of his order is little comfort, as even that action seems to have been motivated by the impact of his order on a single violator, Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther, leaving many business owners unsure, even now, if the order would be equally applied to them. This uncertainty is excavated by the fact that Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has now chosen to pay the fine owed by Shelley Luther,” Gilmore wrote in the order.

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