Federal Judge Denies Restaurant Industry Bid to End the Shutdown in Michigan

Your favorite local bar or restaurant will have to remain closed to dine-in service for at least another week following a court ruling today that keeps things side-lined until at least December 9th.

U.S. District Judge (and former Berrien County Prosecutor) Paul Maloney has denied a motion by the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association that sought to overturn the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services shutdown announced in an epidemic order issued on November 15th, temporarily halting in-person, indoor dining anywhere in Michigan.

Maloney heard arguments from both side of the debate back on Monday and promised to have a response quickly, but today he denied the request for a preliminary injunction, saying in part, “While the pandemic has been part of daily life since March…the scale of the pandemic is vastly different now, such that swift action by the state might be justifiable.”

Maloney adds, “The Court finds that a plausible explanation for the emergency order exists: Restaurant patrons cannot wear a mask while eating or drinking. Plaintiffs complain that they are being treated differently than similar businesses, but as the Court noted in its previous Order, individuals can patronize the businesses that remain open while wearing a mask.”

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MDHHS Director Robert Gordon issued the following statement in response to the court ruling in the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association lawsuit:

“We are happy that today’s ruling keeps in place measures that will save lives by limiting specific indoor gatherings that greatly increase the risk of COVID-19 spread. The science is settled: public health experts from around the nation and world say these types of actions must be taken to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. These protocols on specific indoor gatherings, along with wearing face masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing, give Michigan a fact-based approach to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we can return to a strong economy and get back to normal safely as soon as we can.”

Also in response to today’s ruling, Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association President & CEO Justin Winslow, issued the following statement:

“While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, it is important to note what Judge Maloney explicitly acknowledged in his ruling, stating that ‘Michigan restaurants are at risk of, or have already suffered, irreparable harm under Director Gordon’s EO.’ It is in that vein that we will now transition our efforts to preventing an extension of the MDHHS Order beyond December 8 and call on Director Gordon to provide clear and specific data to justify the sustained closure of restaurants across the state. Presumptions and generalizations will not suffice and should no longer be tolerated given the significant human toll they have wrought from closing restaurants for a second time this year. Moreover, we believe this industry, like any other that has been forced to close, deserves a clear pathway to the full reintegration of their business, with reliable criteria and metrics to be met from Director Gordon to facilitate that reintegration. We have ideas and reasonable solutions to offer and reiterate our willingness to engage in a substantive dialogue with this administration should they wish to do the same.”

“Important Facts to Consider:

  • The COVID-19 Outbreak Investigation data tracked by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) attributes approximately 4.3% of all outbreaks to restaurants statewide.
  • Approximately 250,000 employees are likely to be laid off from restaurants over the holiday season. Unemployment filings have more than doubled already from the week prior and are poised to get significantly worse in the weeks ahead.
  • If the closure is prolonged and federal stimulus dollars are not made immediately available, upwards of 6,000 more restaurants will permanently close by spring. For the record, approximately 2,000 restaurants have already closed their doors permanently in Michigan in 2020.
  • The state of Oregon closed restaurant dining for a two-week period between November 18-December 2 and decided NOT to extend closures beyond that date.”

Judge Maloney has set another hearing for December 17th to decide whether to send certifying questions to the Michigan Supreme Court on the matter.