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Federal judge rejects restaurants challenge to Michigan's ban on indoor dining

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A federal judge has rejected the restaurant industrylegal challenge to Michigan’s temporary ban on indoor dining.

In his rulingreleased Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney wrote there is “a plausible explanation for the emergency order: Restaurant patrons cannot wear a mask while eating or drinking.”

The state health department imposed the temporary ban on indoor diningtwo weeks ago as COVID-19 cases were spiking in Michigan.

In his written opinion, Judge Maloney conceded that the order puts many Michigan restaurants and bars at financial risk.

The head of Michigan’s leading restaurant industry group expressed “disappointment” in the judge’s ruling.

Justin Winslow is the CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. The association filed the suit.  

Winslow says the association will now focus its efforts on trying to stop state officials from extending the temporary indoor dining ban beyond December 8. He says they want MDHHS Director Robert 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.

Some Michigan restaurant and bar owners have defied the ban. The state has imposed fines and suspended liquor licenses of businesses found to be in violation of the order.

Robert Gordon is the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and was the named defendant in the restaurant industry lawsuit.   In a written statement, Gordon says he is "happy" with the judge's decision.

"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," says Gordon, "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.”

The judge’s ruling does not necessarily bring an end to the case.

Judge Maloney suggests asking the Michigan Supreme Court to weigh in on two issues raised by the lawsuit:

1. Is M.C.L. § 333.2253(1) an impermissible delegation of legislative authority such that it violates the non-delegation clause of the Michigan Constitution? 2. If M.C.L. § 333.2253(1) is a permissible delegation of legislative authority, does Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon possess the authority under that statute to develop and promulgate a comprehensive regulatory scheme, such as the November 15 Emergency Order?

Maloney has scheduled a hearing on the issues for December 17.

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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