Nevada County restaurant coalition files suit against state, county over COVID-19 mandates
A coalition of Nevada County restaurants that has organized in opposition to state-mandated, county-enforced COVID-19 orders on Thursday announced it has filed a federal lawsuit against the state and local government.
An overflow crowd of several dozen supporters heard from Ken and Chad Paige of Friar Tuck’s and Old Town Cafe owner Robin Buckman, as well as one of the attorneys who filed the suit, Nathan Harpainter.
Ken Paige told the crowd it had been a difficult decision to make a legal stand, calling the mandates tyranny and characterizing the coalition’s stance as a “battle for hearts and minds” and good versus evil.
The suit names Gov. Gavin Newsom as well as a litany of other state officials, all of the Nevada County supervisors, Public Health Officer Richard O. Johnson, Environmental Health Officer Amy Irani and County Counsel Kit Elliott. The 35-page complaint requests both preliminary and permanent injunctive relief again the enforcement of a number of orders issued by Newsom and the state, as well as Nevada County, and asks the court to prohibit retaliation based on the plaintiffs’ exercise of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly. The complaint also asks for a judicial declaration that those state and county orders violated the restaurant owners’ rights under the 14th and 15th Amendments.
According to Harpainter, the rights being violated include the fundamental right to run a business and to seek lawful employment.
“From my perspective as an attorney, the (state’s) actions significantly overstepped their constitutional boundaries,” the attorney said.
The suit names the Paiges and Buckman as plaintiffs, as well as the restaurant coalition.
In September, Friar Tuck’s announced the creation of the Nevada County Restaurant Coalition, which seeks to accelerate the timeline for businesses to fully return to indoor dining. According to its news release, the coalition was formed after restaurants came back into compliance with regulations and began formulating a more sustainable long-term strategy to reopen. The coalition’s website lists Friar Tuck’s, Sergio’s Caffe, One 11 Kitchen and Bar, Old Town Cafe, Valentina’s, 1849 Brewing Co., Meze, The Pour House, Tofanelli’s, Maria’s Mexican Restaurant and Kane’s Bar and Grill as partners.
The coalition’s lead attorney, Steven C. Bailey, is a former El Dorado County judge who was censured by the state Commission on Judicial Performance in 2019.
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court and, according to court documents, the defendants have 21 days to respond after they have been served. A pre-trial scheduling conference has been scheduled for March 21, court records state.
Bailey said he likely will seek injunctive relief — a legal remedy that prevents the state and county from enforcing those orders — from the court “within a reasonable period of time,” adding he anticipates filing the request before Christmas.
“We will ask that the court find that what the governor has been doing … presumptively violates the Constitutional rights of these individuals, these businesses,” Bailey said.
The lawsuit seeks to determine whether the state and county actions have taken property from the restaurants, Bailey said, adding that a “takings claim” — essentially, monetary damages — would make the restaurants whole.
“In the interim, we would like to see them fully open,” he said. “They need to look at the damage they are doing to the state of California. They need to revaluate and take a different tack.”
Elliott said Thursday she is aware of the lawsuit, but declined to comment as this is pending litigation.
The county came to an agreement with Friar Tuck’s, Old Town Cafe and Sergio’s Caffe recently, after it previously fined the three businesses for operating indoors against state mandates this summer. They each agreed to pay the equivalent of the annual permit fees, which can range from about $100 to $1,000, depending on capacity, instead of the nearly $5,000 levied against each for being out of compliance.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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