Four Anne Arundel restaurant owners are asking a county judge to block County Executive Steuart Pittman’s ban on dining at restaurants before it goes into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Stacie MacDonald, a Republican candidate for House of Delegates in 2022, said an attorney for the four businesses filed a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Tuesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court seeking to stop restaurant the closures Pittman announced in an attempt to slow spiking coronavirus numbers.
James King, whose Titan Restaurant Group owns several county restaurants including the recently opened Smashing Grapes and Blackwall Hitch in Annapolis; along with the owners of Heroes Pub in Annapolis; La Posta Pizza in Severna Park; and Joe Lefavor, owner of Adam’s Taphouse and Grille Severna Park, joined together to block Pittman’s orders.
MacDonald said she helped coordinate the challenge and paid some of the legal fees.
“I am absolutely appalled that County Executive Pittman would take such drastic steps given the fragile state of our hospitality industry and the county’s overall economy,” MacDonald said in a prepared statement.
Anne Arundel County is set to halt indoor and outdoor dining for four weeks. Other restrictions announced last week by Pittman reduced capacity for retail stores, fitness centers, casinos, and nail and hair salons.
Chris Trumbauer, director of policy and communications for Pittman, said Tuesday night the county had received notice of the challenge and was prepared to defend it. It was not immediately clear if a hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday.
Trumbauer said the county executive’s authority stems from Gov. Larry Hogan’s state of emergency, and that the governor has recently said he would not overrule local actions taken to control the virus even if he does not agree with the specifics.
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“We feel confident that the county has the authority to do this,” Trumbauer said.
Coronavirus is significantly more rampant in the community than it was this spring when the county first imposed similar restrictions on restaurants, bars and other indoor businesses. The goal was to keep people in quarantine long enough to lower the case rate, so when people finally gathered, there was a less likely chance of spreading the virus.
Numbers released Tuesday morning show the county has recorded 20,548 confirmed cases and 305 deaths since the pandemic began. Another 13 people may have died from the disease, but a lab test was never performed.
With cases are skyrocketing, Pittman has said hospitals are poised to overflow with regular and COVID-19 patients without further restrictions. If the number of people admitted to county and state hospitals drops over the next four weeks, some restrictions could be rolled back. If not, they will continue to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and forced to delay care for regular patients.
In the request for an injunction, the restaurants argue that Pittman does not have the authority to close restaurants and that there is no evidence that either hospitals are facing an overflow of patients or that closing restaurants will change the virus’s spread.
“The Governor’s Executive Order allows the issuance of more restrictive orders only if it is necessary to save lives and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The closure of foodservice establishments for a month over the holiday season as set forth in EO39 does not save lives or prevent the spread of COVID-19; it worsens the situation in both instances,” the complaint reads.
In her statement announcing the legal challenge, MacDonald said the Maryland Restaurant Association had filed an affidavit in support of the motion. MacDonald ran unsuccessfully for delegate in District 33 in 2018, and earlier this year announced she would make a second run in 2022.