Bars and restaurants sue Minneapolis over vaccine-or-test mandate

·3 min read

Jan. 21—Seven bars and restaurants are suing the city of Minneapolis over its new vaccine-or-test mandate, which requires bars and restaurants to ask patrons for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours.

Jeff O'Brien, an attorney with the Minneapolis firm Chestnut Cambronne, filed the request for a declaratory judgment and temporary restraining order against the city Thursday in Hennepin County District Court on behalf of Smack Shack, The Gay '90s, Sneaky Pete's, Wild Greg's Saloon, Urban Forage, Jimmy John's and Bunkers Music Bar and Grill.

He said the business owners who approached him for legal representation operated Minneapolis-based bars and restaurants and were not focused on St. Paul's new vaccine-or-test mandate, which also rolled out Wednesday in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases led by the fast-spreading omicron variant.

"We're going to get through the Minneapolis suit before we think of doing anything in St. Paul, if we do anything," said O'Brien on Friday. "I've heard from clients on both sides of the river. Business was down last night."

QUESTIONS OVER MANDATE

In light of the pandemic, the emergency public health measures ordered by each city's respective mayor took effect for St. Paul and Minneapolis restaurants on Wednesday, though they've played out a bit differently in the Capital City.

Since 2013, the state of Minnesota and not the city has licensed most restaurants in St. Paul, though the city still licenses restaurants that maintain their own bars. As a result, roughly two-thirds of the restaurants and coffeeshops in St. Paul are exempt from the new mandates.

"We've had a lot of questions from people who are not in the lawsuit," O'Brien said. "Is takeout covered? If I have a regular do I have to keep checking? Do I have to maintain a log? You don't commandeer the hospitality industry like this. They're not equipped to do it. This is not what they signed up for. They aren't public health professionals."

In an email, a spokesperson for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey's office said: "Mayor Frey's approach is straightforward: keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed and keep our valuable small businesses open. That is precisely why he moved forward with this temporary and flexible approach in anticipation of the rising case numbers and hospitalizations. Doing nothing in the face of clear public health data was not an option."

CITIES EXTEND STATE OF EMERGENCIES

In January 2021, O'Brien represented 27 restaurants in a lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County, aimed at persuading Gov. Tim Walz to loosen public health restrictions on their industry.

The governor dialed down emergency measures the same week, and the case was dismissed at the plaintiffs' request. On July 1, 2021, the statewide peacetime emergency officially ended, though the city councils in Minneapolis and St. Paul have extended their local states of emergency at the request of their mayors. As a result, both mayors still maintain emergency powers, and both mandated in early January that city-licensed businesses and facilities resume masking requirements.

Pointing to the discrepancy, O'Brien's latest lawsuit said Minneapolis has overstepped.

"The state of Minnesota has not saw fit to declare a current state of emergency in light of the present state of events and has not done so since July 2021, thereby further calling into question the basis for the city of Minneapolis to do so," reads the filing.

On Jan. 5, the St. Paul City Council voted to extend St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter's emergency powers by 40 days and then revisit the issue at that time.