Federal judge rejects lawsuit from Michigan restaurants seeking to overturn indoor dining ban

A U.S. federal court has denied a request to overturn part of Michigan's newest restrictions that mandated restaurants and bars close part of their business.

A lawsuit from the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association sought to remove a ban on indoor dining in local eateries that the health department implemented as part of a larger pause on combating COVID-19 in the state.

However, a judge from the Western District Court denied the motion, arguing the plaintiffs in the case failed to show enough reasonable cause to overturn the ban.

"At this state, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their federal claims, and accordingly, the request for a preliminary injunction will be denied," read an opinion from U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney. 

On Monday, the court heard arguments from the restaurant association, which claimed the executive order from the health department violated several federal laws. 

Michigan is currently two weeks into a three-week pause on some business and gathering rules as it works to keep down more coronavirus infections. 

Following a surge in new cases, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her health department implemented several temporary policy changes aimed at curbing further spread of COVID-19. November was the state's worst month for new infections, with the state reporting several thousand every day of the month. With encroaching holidays worrying health experts, the governor hoped new lockdown measures would help slow the spread.

Among the rules the MDHHS Director Robert Gordon mandated was a closure to all indoor service in dining facilities in the state. Shortly after the health order came, the restaurant association pushed back, eventually filing a lawsuit against the state. 

Michigan's service sector was among the industries that pushed back hardest against the new rules, with the MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow chastizing the order the same day it dropped. The association sued the department shortly after.

While the association said in a statement that it was disappointed by the ruling, it made note of the judge's opinion validating challenges Michigan restaurants have faced during the pandemic.

"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," Winslow said. "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."

Michigan's three-week pause is expected to end Tuesday, Dec. 8. Whitmer hasn't indicated if she plans to extend it further.