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Michigan Restaurant Association Filed a Lawsuit Against the State Over Indoor Dining Restrictions

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Michigan Restaurant Association Filed a Lawsuit Against the State Over Indoor Dining Restrictions

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In response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a new order prohibiting indoor dining in restaurants for the second time since the start of 2020. While this order was initially only set to last for three weeks, both the state governor and the director of the MDHHS have since admitted it could be extended for months.

As a result, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) along with several plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit against the director of MDHHS, Robert Gordon, seeking an emergency preliminary injunction to this order. This request was denied by a federal judge, although the order was stayed until the lawsuit could be heard in court on November 30th, 2020.

The MRLA claims this lawsuit arose after attempts to reach a compromise with state officials.

In the complaint, the MRLA points out the relatively low number of COVID-related incidents linked to restaurants across the state. The complaint points out that despite restaurants and bars having been open for indoor dining for some time, the MDHHS only attributes 4.3% of COVID outbreaks to dining establishments; the complaint goes on to note that despite millions of patrons entering these establishments across the entire state each day, there are fewer than ten current investigations pending in regard to restaurant COVID safety measures.

With the holidays approaching, the MRLA points to the significant impact this type of closure would have on restaurant employees across the state; survey data estimates that roughly 250,000 employees are likely to be laid off over the holidays due to an expected temporary closure of close to 50% of restaurants under this new order.

MDHHS Director Robert Gordon stands by the order and the ruling enforcing it.

Gordon made a statement in regard to this lawsuit and following ruling that orders like this one, although hotly debated, have successfully prevented surges of COVID in other countries. He points out that the closure is one of many temporary steps being taken to avoid overwhelming hospitals with severe cases and death counts like those seen in Spring of 2020.

The MDHHS also issued new requirements for outdoor seating; for example, many of the large outdoor tents and canopies used thus far to make outdoor seating possible no longer qualify as “outdoor” seating. According to the order, any outdoor seating structure must be open on three sides to qualify, otherwise it is considered indoor and prohibited by law.

However, as temperatures drop in Michigan and across the country, these rules are not expected to do any favors to the restaurant industry. Patrons intending to visit these restaurants will need to bundle up and hope for a table close to an outdoor space heater at least until dining restrictions change again.

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