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Attorney Files Federal Lawsuit Aimed at Allowing Restaurants to Reopen

Lawyer Mark Geragos has already beaten L.A. County in Superior Court

Published on Thursday, January 14, 2021 | 1:50 pm

After winning a lawsuit in L.A. County Superior Court, attorney Mark Geragos has now filed a federal lawsuit aimed at opening local restaurants.

According to Geragos, Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Erica Pan, acting state public health officer, have seized upon the coronavirus pandemic to expand their authority by unprecedented lengths.

The lawsuit was filed late last month after L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled in Geragos’ favor and overturned the county order closing restaurants, but ruled he could not allow them to reopen due to the state health order.

“We anticipate a hearing in the immediate future,” Geragos told Pasadena Now on Thursday. “Regrettably, it now appears that the closure of outdoor dining in November exacerbated the spread of COVID. That’s what happens when you don’t follow the science or data and instead succumb to lobbyists.”

The lawsuit claims the health order violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, both of which guarantee due process, and calls for declaratory and injunctive relief. 

Newsom shut down outdoor dining across the state in early December. At that point, Pasadena restaurants were the only eateries in Los Angeles allowed to operate legally.

L.A. County public health officials had ordered all restaurants to cease indoor and outdoor dining but allowed takeout and delivery service to continue. 

Because the city has its own health department, city officials are not obligated to follow county health orders. But Pasadena must follow orders issued by the state. Some local restaurant owners reported reaping tremendous profits during that period. 

The decision to keep local restaurants open led to some local businesses experiencing their best days financially. However, some local residents opposed keeping the businesses open.

During that time, the city enforced COVID-19 guidelines and closed several businesses, and shut down events that did not comply with guidelines aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. 

In early December, Chalfant ruled against the county and declared Los Angeles County health officials acted “arbitrarily” and without a proper “risk-benefit” analysis when they banned outdoor dining as a coronavirus-control measure. The judge said  the county could only extend its ban after conducting an appropriate risk-benefit analysis that considered the economic cost of closing 30,000 restaurants, the impact to restaurant owners and their employees, and the psychological and emotional cost to a public tired of the pandemic and seeking some form of employment in their lives, according to City News Service.

However, the restaurants were forced to shut down because the closures were ordered by the state.

The federal lawsuit claims Newsom’s order to close restaurants has deprived “plaintiff and all other similarly situated small business owners in California of fundamental rights protected by the U.S. and California Constitutions.”

The complaint also claims the state continues to allow the entertainment industry, major retailers, grocery stores, marijuana dispensaries, and other businesses to operate indoors and outdoors. It further alleges Newsom allowed the entertainment industry to continue operating due to campaign donations.

“On November 6, 2020, Newsom attended the infamous dinner at French Laundry for Jason Kinney’s birthday in which the bar tab reached $15,000.00 and dinners started at $310.00. Jason Kinney is a lobbyist, whose biggest client is Netflix, which has been allowed to operate during the latest round of forced closures, as intensive care hospital capacity has dwindled across the state,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, the “Big Six” production studios have donated heavily to elected officials and campaigns across California. Netflix and its employees, the lawsuit states, gave $135,950; Walt Disney and Co. and its employees gave $183,999; Paramount and its employees gave $119,308; Sony and its employees gave $27,961; Comcast NBCUniversal and its employees gave $251,588; and Warner Bros. and its employees gave $77,050. 

The campaign donations were made as the firms also deployed lobbyists to shape the pandemic rules governing the entertainment industry, according to the suit.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) includes outdoor dining in the second-lowest tier of risk and notes that even this risk can be mitigated by reasonable accommodations, such as spacing tables appropriately, encouraging mask-wearing by servers, frequent sanitizing of surfaces, and other actions that are well within the capability of County restaurants,” according to the lawsuit. 

“Many of the contact tracing studies in the scientific literature that document the most common sources of spread of COVID infection show no evidence suggesting that outdoor dining is more likely to spread the COVID virus than the activities – including private gatherings – that remain permissible,” the lawsuit states.

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