Judge rejects restraining order request by Michigan restaurant association

A federal judge has rejected a restraining order filed by a Michigan restaurant advocacy group and two other plaintiffs against the state health department seeking to overturn restrictions that will impact eateries and bars.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association filed a suit in the federal court on Tuesday, two days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her administration announced new restrictions on businesses that forced the closing of indoor dining.

On Friday, a federal judge denied the request for a restraining order against the state to stop the executive order from going into place, saying that the state is within its legal rights to set the health order.

In Friday's ruling, Judge Paul Maloney said the state was instructed to use its epidemic powers after the early October ruling of the state supreme court that said Gov. Whitmer's executive orders were not allowed by state constitution.

In the suit, the MRLA noted that gyms, liquor stores, recreation marijuana facilities, and more remain open. Maloney cited that, in those businesses, a mask is required at all times. While masks are required while indoors, they still have to be removed while eating and drinking.

In response to the ruling, MRLA President & CEO Justin Winslow said the rejection of the suit means people will lose their jobs.

"We were disappointed not to have received a temporary restraining order of the DHHS Order this morning, as it means several more restaurant workers will be losing their jobs in the coming days as restaurants remain closed. We look forward to the opportunity to make our case in court on November 30 and remain hopeful for a positive outcome that more effectively balances risk and human toll across Michigan," Winslo said.

Meanwhile, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon applauded the ruling and encourages everyone to take steps to protect their friends and neighbors.

“We appreciate today’s ruling. Orders similar to this one have successfully stopped COVID surges in many other countries. That’s why public health experts support the approach, and we believe these targeted and temporary steps are needed to avoid overwhelmed hospitals and death counts like we saw in the spring. If all of us mask up and avoid indoor gatherings, we will not only save thousands of lives and protect our frontline health workers, but we’ll also be able to enjoy indoor restaurant dining without fear," Gordon said.

On Sunday's announcement, the state delivered new plans to slow COVID-19 in Michigan, which targeted several sectors in the industry. In addition to limiting operations in restaurants, it also shut down movie theaters, lowered the limit on public gatherings, and mandated high school revert to remote-schooling only.

Neither Gov. Gretchen Whitmer nor health directer Gordon referenced restaurants specifically when citing reasons the state needed to put more lockdowns in place, it did generally cite gatherings of people as one of the reasons the virus was spreading. 

The MRLA was joined by two other plaintiffs: Suburban Inns, a northern Michigan hotel operator and Heirloom, a Detroit restaurant and hospitality company.

The food and beverage industry was among the hardest hit during the first stage of the pandemic, with indoor service remaining closed for several weeks. The move led to layoffs at a majority of establishments. 

A report from the National Restaurant Association said that one in six restaurants had closed permanently or long-term six months after the first shutdown.