Restaurants Sue Gov in Federal Court Over COVID Restrictions

The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association asked a federal judge to put a stop to Gov. Kate Brown’s recent coronavirus restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining at  Oregon restaurants Friday, according to documents filed in Portland’s U.S. District Court 

The lawsuit cites violations of due process and equal protection principles, claiming that Brown’s authority to implement such an order is derived from nowhere. A favorable ruling would see a judge grant a temporary injunction on the restrictions until the case is resolved. 

Brown issued the “two-week freeze” — make that a month if you’re a Portland resident — Nov. 13 and restrictions including limiting social gatherings and restaurants operating on a take-out-only basis took effect Wednesday.  

There were 808 COVID-19 deaths throughout the state Friday, and daily totals have been edging upward.  

Private citizens are prohibited from gathering in groups of more than six people, although some law enforcement agencies have stated they will not enforce restrictions over the Thanksgiving holiday. Clackamas County Board of County Commissioners commissioner-elect Tootie Smith said she’d host a large Thanksgiving celebration in defiance of the orders. 

Gyms, movie theatres and other indoor entertainment venues were ordered closed again after restrictions were slowly loosened in recent months. And grocery stores are limited to three-fourths capacity. But Brown cited the increasing count of COVID-19 cases as warranting such measures. 

“We are trying to stop this ferocious virus from spreading even more quickly and far and wide, and to save lives,” Brown said. 

But restaurant and business owners, who took a tough blow in earlier rounds of restrictions, argue the restrictions could put them out of business along with the jobs of many employees. Since COVID restrictions took hold earlier in the year, many businesses operated on skeleton crews to begin with.  

The association, which represents 12,000 employees throughout the state and filed the lawsuit alongside the Restaurant Law Center, noted the restrictions may damage businesses and adversely affect their employees.  

“We hope to engage in communication with Gov. Kate Brown and her professional staff as soon as possible to work towards a resolution that has not been available to us at this stage,” restaurant association president Jason Brandt said. 

Governor’s office representative Liz Merah declined to comment on the lawsuit but pointed to the recent announcement that $55 million will be dedicated to easing the losses of restaurants and other businesses due to pandemic restrictions. Some within the service industry argue that more government stimulus would solve restaurant woes.  

“The lack of federal relief is more of a risk to restaurants’ surviving than the governor’s grders,” said Independent Restaurant Council chief operating officer Erika Polmar.“The bipartisan Restaurants Act, which has the support of nearly half of the Senate, would put grants into the hands of business owners to make up for losses over the course of the pandemic. Dining at reduced capacity is a bandaid for an industry on the verge of extinction.”  

By Gabriel Perry