For the first time since Seattle put a moratorium on strip clubs 17 years ago, the ban will be challenged in court. A lawyer has drawn up...

For the first time since Seattle put a moratorium on strip clubs 17 years ago, the ban will be challenged in court.

A lawyer has drawn up a complaint to be filed Monday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Bob Davis, who has owned comedy and dance clubs in the city. The complaint alleges that by denying Davis a strip-club license, the city violated his constitutional rights.

Davis applied for an adult-entertainment license in 2004, according to the lawsuit, but was denied. There was no reason given for the denial except the moratorium.

The moratorium began in 1988, when the City Council put it in place as a stopgap measure giving officials 180 days to study the issue. There are four strip clubs currently operating in Seattle.

The big question has been how to write zoning regulations governing the clubs. The ban has been renewed by the council over and over, most recently being extended to June 2006.

Given that the 180 days has turned into 17 years and the city still has not made any decisions on zoning, Davis turned to the federal court, alleging that by denying his application for a license, the city violated his right to free expression and due process..

According to his lawyer, Kristin G. Olson, government is permitted to make “time, place and manner” restrictions on free expression. But an outright ban on adult-entertainment clubs — which she said the moratorium amounts to — is not permitted.

City Attorney Tom Carr, however, said the City Council has just been doing its job. The fact that no zoning decisions have been made over the years, he said, is not evidence that the city is prohibiting free expression. “This is not an easy subject to zone on,” he said. “We will assert that each year we have renewed this in a perfectly legal manner.”

In the lawsuit, Davis claims that he has suffered economic loss because he hasn’t been able to operate the business. No dollar amounts are specified.

Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com