A Time to Dance!

June 1, 2008

A Time to Dance!

IJ Defeats Arizona Dance Ban

In April, the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter defeated a ridiculous government demand that Arizona entrepreneur Dale Bell ban dancing outside his Country & Western steakhouse, San Tan Flat, or else face fines of almost $200,000 a year.

Father and son business partners and IJ clients Dale Bell, right, and Spencer Bell, defeated the government-imposed ban on dancing in their Arizona steakhouse.

“My son and I built this business with our own hands,” said Dale, who runs San Tan Flat with his 17-year-old son and business partner, Spencer. “I’m very pleased that freedom and common sense have prevailed. It is hard enough to run a business these days without having to jump through arbitrary hoops bureaucrats can put in your way.”

San Tan Flat is a popular steakhouse in Pinal County—located between Phoenix and Tucson—that provides live country music in its outdoor courtyard. Customers often dance to the family-friendly entertainment under the desert stars. County officials, however, dusted off an obscure 60-year-old zoning ordinance to argue that every time one of Dale’s customers swayed to the music, the steakhouse instantly morphed into a “dance hall.” According to the old law, dancing outdoors in a “dance hall” is strictly forbidden.

During a hearing on April 30, Superior Court Judge William O’Neil strongly disagreed, stating, “When a local government restricts freedoms it’s a dangerous thing.” Judge O’Neil struck down the Pinal County ruling, stating, “San Tan Flat is not an enterprise for dance.”

IJ Arizona Chapter Staff Attorney Jennifer Perkins said, “Pinal County’s obsession with dancing was a ruse they used to harass these small businessmen, but the government didn’t appreciate the fight they were in for. We’re ready to literally kick up our heels and do a victory dance to celebrate Dale and Spencer’s restored economic liberty.”

Shortly after San Tan Flat opened in 2005, Pinal County officials began harassing Dale.  They forced him to reduce the number of entrances San Tan Flat had off the highway from four to one and prohibited him from advertising with more than one sign. A government agent even made a special trip to scrutinize the restaurant’s firewood.  Government agents then started showing up three times a night to see if Dale violated the county’s very restrictive noise ordinance—adopted after the steakhouse’s opening.  During months of constant monitoring, San Tan Flat never once violated the noise regulation. So the bureaucrats resorted to the dance ban.

One year ago, on May 16, 2007, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors upheld the dance ban against Dale, subjecting him to steep financial penalties. The Board also made several absurd claims, including stating that public parks may also qualify as dance halls and that Dale’s stage should be used for puppet and mime shows.

This outrageous abuse of local government power turned Pinal County into a national laughingstock. Drew Carey, host of The Price is Right, featured San Tan Flat in his sixth episode of “The Drew Carey Project” for Reason.tv. Nationally syndicated columnist George F. Will recently wrote that the Pinal County bureaucrats demonstrate that “there must be a judicial leash on governments to prevent them from arbitrarily asserting that the plain language of a statute means something that it plainly does not say.” Judge O’Neil ended that abuse with his ruling.

Tim Keller, executive director of the IJ Arizona Chapter, said, “Dale’s fight has never been just about San Tan Flat, but about the right of all entrepreneurs who face arbitrary and abusive government power. The Institute for Justice will not rest until this fundamental right is secure for all Americans. Dale’s victory is a wonderful victory for economic liberty.”

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.