Judge dismisses suit on East Ridge fireworks sales

Judge dismisses suit on East Ridge fireworks sales

February 18th, 2012 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

Hamilton County Chancellor Frank Brown

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

A judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit filed to block the sale of fireworks in East Ridge has officials emphasizing that the city is "open for business" to the fireworks retail industry.

But the attorneys representing the group of East Ridge residents and competing fireworks retailers who filed the suit said they see the judge's ruling as an opportunity to regroup and shift strategies in their fight.

"We're assessing the opinion and what our next step will be going forward," said Jeff Yarbro, one of group's attorneys. "The court expressly didn't decide the constitutionality of the statute, only whether it could be challenged by these plaintiffs right now."

The group sued the city last July, claiming the law -- which state legislators passed in May 2011 -- was unconstitutional. The law allows retailers to set up shop within East Ridge city limits, despite the fact that, for decades, the state limited fireworks sales to rural areas.

The group claimed the law was an unfair blow to retailers who had customized their businesses for rural areas and added that fireworks stores on crowded city roads threaten safety and property values.

Hamilton County Chancellor Frank Brown said the group did not have enough evidence of the statute's "particularized harm." Such evidence may not be available "until the legislation has been in effect for some time and the effects of the East Ridge fireworks legislation become known," Brown wrote in his 20-page opinion.

"We believe that the potential for harm is already there, since East Ridge has already enacted the ordinance and people could start acting in reliance in it," said Christopher Varner, another of the group's attorneys.

Retailers already are starting to trickle into the city, East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble said Friday. Two retailers have applied for permits to sell fireworks, and at least three more are considering opening their branches in town, he said.