Court strikes down Pinal's $200,000 outdoor-dancing fine against San Tan Flat

By John Dickerson

Pinal County officials never arrested patrons who danced at the San Tan Flat restaurant near Queen Creek. But they did fine the owner about $200,000 for allegedly breaking the law--all because outdoor dancing supposedly violated a 60-year old county ordinance.

That hefty fine sparked a bitter tango that finally ended May 1, when the Pinal County Superior Court ruled that patrons have a constitutional right to dance--and that Pinal County officials overstepped their bounds by fining owner Dale Bell and his restaurant.

Bell’s rumba with the county was outlined in New Times “Dance Gestapo” story last fall. The two-step culminated when Pinal’s Board of Supervisors ruled that Bell should be fined for letting patrons dance to country-western music--even if that put the 30-year restaurateur out of business.

That’s when the Institute for Justice came to Bell’s legal aid. The Institute represents individuals nationally when it believes property rights or freedom of expression have been abridged. It argued that the county was infringing upon Bell’s right to make a living and may have been trying to put him out of business. IJ attorneys represented Bell in his counter-lawsuit claiming he has the right to operate his business without government interference.

That lawsuit finally got its day in court last week. Superior Court Judge William O’Neil struck down the Pinal County decision, finding, “When a local government restricts freedoms, it’s a dangerous thing. San Tan Flat is not an enterprise for dance.”

“I'm very pleased that freedom and common sense have prevailed,” Bell said. “It's hard enough to run a business these days without having to jump through completely arbitrary hoops bureaucrats can put in your way.”

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