Is a city allowed to limit the number of tattoo establishments in a certain area? In Buehrle v. City of Key West (No. 14–15354), the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court that “tattooing is protected artistic expression, but we reverse the summary judgment because, on the record before us, the City has failed to show that the ordinance is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction.”   

The opinion, written by Judge Jill Pryor, includes a discussion about the protection to be afforded tattoos under the First Amendment and rejects an argument by the City that relied on “a number of district and state court decisions drawing a distinction between the process of creating a tattoo and the tattoo itself.” The court stated that “consistent with the Supreme Court’s teaching, the right to display a tattoo loses meaning if the government can freely restrict the right to obtain a tattoo in the first place.” Therefore, the district court’s holding that tattoos are protected speech was affirmed.   

However, the court reversed the district court’s holding that the regulation was constitutional. Citing the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit stated that “a municipality may regulate protected artistic expression only if the regulation (1) is justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, (2) is narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and (3) leaves open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.” The City is required to satisfy this test, and present evidence that does so.   

In trying to meet that burden, Jimmy Buffet was referenced twice in the record to support the ordinance. The court stated:

Jimmy Buffett’s song “Margaritaville” was referenced twice in the record, once by Mr. Craig in his deposition and once by the City’s attorney in oral argument before the district court, to support the claim that inebriated tourists are likely to get and then regret tattoos if more tattoo establishments operate in the historic district. But the singer in “Margaritaville”—seemingly far from suffering embarrassment over his tattoo—considers it “a real beauty.” Jimmy Buffett, “Margaritaville,” on Songs You Know by Heart (Geffen Records 1985).

Clearly, the reference to Jimmy Buffett did not sway the Eleventh Circuit. In this case, the court stated that it did not doubt the legitimate government interest expressed by the city, but stated that the city had failed to meet its burden to show that the regulation would serve that interest.