Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on May 17 announced that his office has filed a lawsuit against Shady’s, a chain of six bars and restaurants that said it plans to reopen before the state’s lockdown on hospitality businesses is lifted.
Ellison said in a statement that for Shady’s to resume operations would violate Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order (pdf), which recently extended the temporary closure of bars, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation until May 31. Walz noted in the order that “the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present an unprecedented and rapidly evolving challenge to our state.”
As of May 17, 15,668 Minnesotans have been diagnosed with the CCP virus, and a total of 722 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Minnesota authorities are working on a plan, to be released by May 20, for a phased reopening of hospitality industry establishments starting on June 1, the order notes.
Ellison said May 17 that he filed an enforcement action (pdf) against six Shady’s bars and restaurants located in Albany, Burtrum, Cold Spring, New Munich, Rice, and St. Martin. All are located in or near Stearns County, which has the second-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota. The lawsuit also names owner Kris Schiffler individually as a defendant.
“A handful of bar and restaurant owners have said they don’t want to wait any longer and want to reopen illegally,” Ellison said, noting that his office had contacted Schiffler, warning him that opening ahead of the to-be-released schedule “would be both dangerous to the public health and in violation of Executive Order 20-56.”
He said after initially agreeing to delay reopening, Schiffler made public statements intending to reopen despite the lockdown.
“The owner of Shady’s, however, has declared his intention to break the law and endanger his customers and employees—in Stearns County, with the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota. My office has the duty to enforce the law and the governor’s order, to protect Minnesotans’ health, and to protect businesses that are complying with the order from unfair competition. I take that duty seriously,” Ellison wrote.
Schiffler, meanwhile, said in a Facebook video posted May 17 that his Albany location had been adapted to operate in compliance with social-distancing guidelines, and would be opening for on-premises consumption at noon local time on May 18.
He said the hospitality industry has suffered enough under the lockdowns and that he launched a campaign to mount a legal challenge to the state in its decision to continue the shutdowns.
“We are using it for our attorney, but our attorney’s fight right now is to get rid of the whole thing, not just bars and restaurants,” Schiffler said in the video. “We’re talking salon owners and houseboat owners and resort owners. Every kind of small business. These guys, everybody’s ready to go. We’re prepared.”
In a statement on a GoFundMe page, which at the time of reporting had raised over $176,000, campaign organizer Dawn Fridholm-Nekl wrote: “As many of you know, all six Shady’s locations were planning on reopening on Monday, May 18 (against the governor’s orders). We received a phone call from the attorney general’s office yesterday, Friday, May 15, informing us if we were to continue our plans to open and operate our six bars and restaurants, we could be faced with a $25,000 fine per location, per day with no maximum amount of times we could be issued the fine.
“We want to ensure that this never, ever happens to any of us again. We want our rights, our freedom and our control back! These are our businesses we have worked so hard to build, we have to fight the fight.”
This is the first enforcement action the attorney general has brought against Minnesota hospitality establishments that have declared an intention to reopen.
“The vast majority of Minnesota’s bar and restaurant owners are doing the safe, lawful, and right thing during this crisis by keeping their doors closed, while still serving customers as allowed through take-out and drive-up,” Ellison said.
“As hard as it is for them—and I know it’s hard—they’re doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep themselves, their families, their employees, and their customers safe from this deadly pandemic. They deserve all of our thanks.”
The emergency order filed by Ellison asks the court for a temporary restraining order, a temporary injunction, and emergency relief.