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Mesa tattoo shop closer to opening following appeals court victory

Angel Tattoo was scheduled to open in early 2009 at Dobson Ranch in Mesa, but the Mesa City Council denied the operating permit based on negative responses to the proposed studio from community members. Now, two years later, tattoo artists Ryan and Laetitia Coleman may get a chance to finally open their studio.

The council’s decision to deny the couple’s permit was based on concerns that the studio might lead to a rise in crime in the area and reduce property value of locations around the store. The Coleman’s assisting attorney Michael Kielsky said the council lacked sufficient evidence for these concerns and the negative community responses were based on supposition, not fact.

“The store was pretty much ready to open, they were just waiting on that permit and what really happened is that individuals in the neighborhood, in the surrounding areas, organized to oppose their post based on, what the record exudes — perception,” Kielsky said.

Among the seven council members for Mesa only one voted in favor of the studio – Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. He said he supported the business because it was unfair to stereotype a tattoo shop.

“I voted yes at the time because I didn’t believe the city had an adequate objective standard to judge the application by,” Smith said. “And I felt uncomfortable with denial based on simply that it didn’t fit in the neighborhood.”

The Maricopa County Superior Court heard the couple’s case in April 2010 but the court ruled in favor of the Mesa City Council even though the Coleman’s case argued the decision violated their First Amendment right of free speech to open a tattoo studio.

The Arizona Court of Appeals heard from both parties on Sept. 15 after the couple appealed the Superior Court’s decision. On Nov. 3, the Coleman’s caught a break after the appeals court ruled in their favor.

The Coleman’s attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, said the court’s decision is significant for expanding free speech protections because similar cases in the past have ruled the other way.

“It means a great deal for startup entrepreneurs who encounter really absurd barriers in their path by their municipal governments,” Bolick said.

He said the legal battle isn’t quite over. In its decision, the appeals court sent the case back to trial court. The city of Mesa has yet to appeal the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court.

“There are some legal steps that need to be taken, and the Coleman’s haven’t absolutely won their right to open the studio as of yet,” Bolick said. “I am hopeful that in the coming year the legal cloud that has hovered over this tattoo studio will be removed and that in 2012 the Coleman’s will be able to offer services in Mesa.”

One suggestion the Coleman’s heard from Mesa community members was to simply move to a new location, but after substantial market and location research and money already spent, they didn’t want to start over.

“We’re talking about a shopping mall that was desperate for another paying customer and the Coleman’s were going to come in, they were going to provide jobs and provide services, provide some tax revenues for the city,” Kielsky said.

If all goes according to plan and the Coleman’s successfully open their shop by the end of 2012, this will be the couple’s second tattoo studio. Their first shop is in Nice, France, where Laetitia is from. Ryan is a Mesa native and the two spend a considerable amount of time in Arizona, which is why they wanted to open a shop in Mesa.

“The Coleman’s should have far greater freedom to pursue their chosen business than they did before this ruling,” Bolick said. “It’s a commentary on our times that they would have fewer bureaucratic obstacles in France than they do in the United States.”


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