LINCOLN, Nebraska—Shane Harrington, owner of MelTech, Inc., and operator of MelissaMidwest.com and ValMidwest.com, announced late today that he has filed a $25 million lawsuit in Federal District Court in Nebraska against the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission and other government entities and individuals for violating his constitutional rights when they rejected his application for a liquor license because of his history operating porn sites.
The complaint states, “This action arises primarily out of the persecution of Plaintiff for exercising his First Amendment rights, and includes Due Process violations, Equal Protection Violations, harassment, defamation, invasion of privacy, tortious interference, and other unlawful conduct on the part of government entities and individuals who abused their powers under the color and authority of law in violation of the Constitution and the laws of the United States and the State of Nebraska.”
Named defendants include the City of Lincoln's Police Department and the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, as well as former Lincoln police chief Tom Casady, current police chief Jim Peschong, police officer Russel Fossler, former City Council Chairman John Spatz and Nebraska Liquor Control Commission Executive Director Hobert Rupe. The claims contained in the complaint, which cite Nebraska Revised Statutes 28-926 for Oppression Under Color of Office, carry civil and criminal penalties as a Class II misdemeanor.
Evan Spencer, one of Harrington's lawyers, commented, “Mr. Harrington was denied a liquor license due to the exercise of his First Amendment rights. Shane is a native Nebraskan who leased a commercial property in Lincoln, created his own vodka, and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours into Club Smooth, which had every legal right to obtain a liquor license. The Defendants denied granting this license strictly based upon his ownership of adult web sites that are entirely legal and unrelated to the night club he wished to operate.”
Harrington added, “Ever since my ex-wife and I launched our website MelissaMidwest.com ten plus years ago, the Lincoln Police Department has done everything they can to make my life hell in my home town of Lincoln Nebraska. I have been harassed by law enforcement officers on numerous occasions without cause and the police department has kept me under surveillance for a decade. At the licensing hearing, the State of Nebraska and City of Lincoln displayed a file ('The Book') which contained years of unlawful surveillance of me, my family, my friends and business associates. They also displayed numerous nude photographs of my ex-wife for no other reason than to embarrass and humiliate me. I was treated like a criminal because they didn’t like the profession I chose. Club Smooth would have been a great nightclub for Lincoln but the denial of my liquor license application killed the club—I not only lost most of my life savings in the project, but it damaged my credibility in the business world and caused me a great amount of distress.”
“The details of this case have outraged everyone who has heard them," Spencer concluded. "In addition, our research discovered approximately 15 other cases where the Nebraska Liquor Commission wrongfully denied liquor license applications, where courts later reversed their findings and ordered that licenses be granted, generally as a result of arbitrary and unreasonable decisions. In the case of Club Smooth, the Defendants granted a liquor license to a subsequent applicant who had criminal convictions for DUI and making a false statement to a police officer and not enough financing to purchase or operate the facility. Clearly, Mr. Harrington was denied equal protection of the law.”
In an article posted Aug. 23, the Omaha.com reports, "Much of the testimony during the 2011 commission hearing focused on Harrington's ownership of pornographic websites. Lincoln city officials told commissioners that the sites depicted public nudity in Lincoln, and they expressed doubts that Harrington would follow state liquor laws."
The Harrington v. Nebraska Liquor Control Commission et al complaint is available here.