California Courts Rule in Favor of Businesses Affected by COVID Lockdown Orders

California Courts Rule in Favor of Businesses Affected by COVID Lockdown Orders
The California State Capitol building in Sacramento on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jill McLaughlin

Three courts ruled in favor last week of two businesses and a church that fought California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency lockdown orders.

A nail salon company with several Southern California locations, a church in San Jose, and a bar in Burbank all filed separate lawsuits claiming constitutional violations after being shut down during the pandemic.

All three were granted favorable rulings in August, allowing their court cases to proceed.

Constitutional attorney Mark Meuser, who also is a candidate for U.S. Senate in California, told The Epoch Times the rulings were good signs.

“I think all three of these cases are very important cases,” Meuser said. “They are good signs that the courts are starting to come in and find the limitation of the government’s executive power. That will be very good for future emergencies.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency March 4, 2020, and said spas, gyms, and salons are high-risk areas for spreading COVID-19. Those businesses were closed longer than others. Newsom continues to operate under the state’s emergency orders.

California businesses suffered one of the highest rates of closures in the nation during the pandemic, according to Rep. Young Kim (R-La Habra).

“Unfortunately, our state’s small business owners were hit the hardest in the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic with 40,000 small businesses closing their doors and nearly half of those closures are permanent,” Kim said in a statement.

Two Southern California businesses fought lockdown orders in court and will be allowed to go to trial. The outcomes could influence future emergency closures.

Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill in Burbank countersued the City of Burbank after the city filed a lawsuit against the family-owned bar claiming it was a public nuisance and ignored a $50,000 fine for staying open.

The Los Angeles County Health Department cited the business 40 times and later built a fence around the property after the owners defied lockdown orders and continued to serve diners and allow eating and drinking after losing its permits. The county disconnected its electricity in March 2021 before locking the doors. The owners were later evicted by the property owner and the building stands empty.

Lucas Lepejian, son of former owner Baret Lepejian, has since moved out of state but said the ruling was great news.

“This is a start,” Lepejian told The Epoch Times. “I hope for justice and I hope we all go to the full extent that we could possibly go for the cities and the local government who were trying to make an example out of Tinhorn, the nail salon, and the church.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Douglas Stern denied a motion by Burbank’s lawyers Aug. 22 to dismiss the countersuit, allowing it to move to a jury trial to decide whether the city violated the owners’ First Amendment rights.

The Lepejians argued the government was after them because they were so vocal in fighting back against the pandemic lockdowns.

“I think it is a major limitation on the ability of the government to enforce their emergency orders,” attorney Meuser said. “It really comes back to show that the government can’t do what they want, when they want and use the courts to steamroll the people.”

A second case was filed by Image Luxury Nail Lounge Salons in 2020. The salon’s general manager Tony Nguyen’s lawsuit seeks $5 million in damages from Irvine, Newport Beach, Long Beach, the counties of Orange and Los Angeles, and the state of California. The company, which has several locations, alleges the government violated both its state and federal constitutional rights.

The state emergency declaration enacted by Newsom says the government must pay “reasonable value” for properties that are commandeered in an emergency.

An Orange County Superior Court judge refused the state’s request to dismiss the case, clearing it for a jury trial.

In a third case, Calvary Chapel San Jose and its pastors sued Santa Clara and the state in 2020, after the state fined the church $200,000 for violating limits on indoor public gatherings. The church claimed the fines violated freedom of religion.

A state appeals court ruled Aug. 17 that the church did not have to pay the fines.

The ruling “is a great win for the sake of liberty and displays the justification for the courage shown by this church” and its pastors, Robert Tyler, a lawyer for the church, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.
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