Movie theater sues Idaho State Police over sting op during '50 Shades of Grey' screening

Courtesy Universal Pictures via YouTube

An Idaho movie theater company is suing the state police after its alcohol enforcement division tried to revoke the theater's liquor license for serving booze during the movie "50 Shades of Grey."

In February 2015, after receiving an anonymous tip, Idaho State Police contacted two Treasure Valley movie theaters that were showing the popular Rated R flick, including Meridian Cinemas, for serving alcohol during the movie. Idaho law forbids businesses from serving alcohol during the movies and films that depict sex.

Village Cinema has a VIP section in some of its theaters that allow adults 21 and up to consume alcohol during a movie.

Idaho State Police says after warning the theater, undercover detectives went there and watched the film. The detectives arrived 40 minutes prior to movie, purchased VIP tickets and ordered a Blue Moon beer and a rum with Diet Coke inside the auditorium prior to the movie. The two detectives say they continued to consume their drinks after the film began.

"At no time did (the waitress) tell the detectives of any policy against drinking alcohol in auditoriums showing "50 Shades of Grey" and she continued to allow the detectives to consume their alcoholic beverages while the film played on the screen," ISP's complaint states.

The theater says the detectives ignored posted signs and warnings from staff that alcoholic beverages were not allowed inside the theater during the movie.

Meridian Cinemas says its biggest complaint is that ISP is depriving the cinema of its First Amendment Rights.

"Unfortunately, this code has been on the books for 16 years and this is the first time that the Idaho ABC officials have chosen to enforce the code," said Dave Corkill, the theater's owner. "The Flicks has shown hundreds of movies that violate the statute and so has the other movie theaters in Idaho that have an alcohol license and show the same movies that we show. Yet we are the only movie theater that has received a citation. Why that is? We don't know, but it's obviously a concern of ours."

Carole Skinner, owner of The Flicks, told KBOI 2News says she's always careful about the movies she decides to show.

"Even though I think the statute is out of date and silly...we follow it," Skinner said. "Distributors know that we don't want movies with explicit sexual conduct. I'm really, really careful. I book the movies myself."

According to the lawsuit, a similar case in California ended up in a federal appeals court, which sided with a business saying "it was clearly established that liquor regulations could not be used to impose restrictions on speech that would otherwise be prohibited under the First Amendment."

That California law, which is similar to Idaho's, was later repealed after the appeals court decision.

Due to the threat of having its liquor license revoked, the lawsuit says, the theater has been forced to show movies such as "The Wolf of Wall Street," "The Revenant" and "50 Shades of Grey" in theaters without VIP areas. And that has resulted in a drop in VIP ticket sales.

The theater is requesting a jury trial.

KBOI 2News has also reached out to Idaho State Police for further comment, but we've yet to hear back.

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