Lawsuit by Restaurateurs Against New York State Grows Over Increased Dining Restrictions

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Lawsuit by Restaurateurs Against New York State Grows Over Increased Dining Restrictions
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The dining industry has been hit arguably harder than any other as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns. As a means of preventing further spread of the virus, many restaurants were forced to resort to curbside pick-up options only, and other establishments shut down entirely. However, in recent months, some establishments were allowed to begin offering indoor dining options again with social distancing, mask measures, and limited capacity rules in place. However, in the second wave of the pandemic, many states are cracking down on dining restrictions once again and prohibiting indoor dining of any kind. As a result, restaurants across the country are coming together to protest these restrictions with a myriad of class action lawsuits.

Most recently, a group of 40 restaurants has joined together to file a lawsuit against the state of New York and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the wake of a rash of holiday shutdowns and COVID restrictions. The restaurateurs in this complaint argue that Cuomo is using the state government to deprive them of their constitutional right to earn a living without providing a rational basis for this deprivation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by May of 2020, the pandemic had already cost 5.9 million jobs in the restaurant industry.

The impact on businesses that by nature require people to be physically present have been inordinately hurt by the need for social distancing introduced by the virus. The ingenuity of these business owners has been put to the test, resulting in many restaurants offering delivery services, curbside pick-up, and for areas that allow limited in-person dining plexiglass barriers, face mask requirements, and socially distanced interior setups. However, with fears rising over increased COVID cases during the holidays, many states including New York began tightening restrictions again, forcing many businesses to halt all indoor dining again. Restaurant owners who have already been hit hard seem to be largely unhappy with this and similar decisions being made across the country.

According to the complaint, restaurants and bars account for only 1.4% of the spread of coronavirus cases in the state.

Also questioned in the official complaint is the method by which the decision is made to allow one restaurant to open for indoor dining over the other. According to the mandate set up by Gov. Cuomo, a restaurant may only open for limited indoor dining if the area they are located in meets standards for the precautionary “yellow zone”, and would still be required to close. Restaurants residing in orange or red zones may not open for indoor dining of any kind. According to the complaint, these restrictions echo those seen in March of the same year, forcing many restaurants to near or total shutdown despite allegedly not having any “...scientific or otherwise credible evidence upon which to impose such shutdowns, nor to link any increase in COVID-19 cases to the operation of Petitioners’ businesses.”

Similar lawsuits have been heralded as the saviors of other New York industries including movie theaters, salons, and gyms.

In New York, businesses in other COVID-restricted industries have appeared to benefit from similar lawsuits resulting in the permission to reopen under certain conditions. Restaurateurs appear to be hoping for a similar result here. Even in the dining industry, this is not the first lawsuit of its kind, with other states including Michigan seeking similar legal recourse as a means to lift, lighten, or alter certain dining restrictions imposed during COVID-19. Considering the significant impact the pandemic has had on the dining industry, it seems highly probable that lawsuits of this variety will continue popping up until something shifts in the political or viral climate.

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