Federal judge in Maryland dismisses ‘reopen’ lawsuit, upholds Gov. Hogan’s coronavirus restrictions

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that attempted to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive orders that limited activities and shuttered businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake found the plaintiffs failed multiple legal tests in their argument against the orders.


“Reasonable people, including informed government and public health officials may debate whether the governor’s orders at any moment go too far, or not enough, in protecting the public from this deadly pandemic,” Blake wrote in her ruling.

But, she continued, “the court cannot conclude that Governor Hogan’s measures are arbitrary or unreasonable, or that they plainly violate any of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.”


Blake cited earlier court rulings that found that it’s not the role of the court system “to second-guess policy choices favoring one reasonable method of preventing the spread of disease over another,” which is what the lawsuit tried to do.

The ruling comes as the Republican governor is tightening restrictions in response to a resurgence of the virus after several months of a gradual easing of limitations.

In recent weeks, Hogan has set a 10 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants, suspended most visitation at hospitals and nursing homes, banned fans from stadiums and racetracks, and limited restaurants, stores, casinos and houses of worship to 50% capacity. Several counties have banned private gatherings of more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

“We appreciate Judge Blake recognizing that the governor’s orders are reasonable and constitutional,” said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan. “He will continue to take whatever action is necessary to save lives and protect public health.”

Maryland, like much of the country, has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, with two consecutive weeks of new caseloads of more than 1,000 per day. A total of 1,144 people were being treated for the virus Wednesday in Maryland hospitals, a number that has quadrupled in less than two months.

The group that filed the lawsuit included business owners, pastors, veterans, Republican politicians and an anti-restrictions group called “Reopen Maryland.” They claimed that Hogan’s stay-at-home order, in effect from late March to mid-May, and other directives illegally infringed on their rights, including their First Amendment rights of speech, assembly and religion. They also argued that the orders violated the Maryland Constitution.

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The initial 56-page lawsuit filed in May had errors, including text that referenced restrictions in another state. The group later filed an amended lawsuit.

The group previously attempted, and failed, to get a temporary restraining order to put Hogan’s orders on hold while the lawsuit played out. The temporary restraining order was denied by Blake and by a federal appeals court, which found that the lawsuit would have little chance of success.


Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat who defended Hogan and the state in court, declined to comment.

Frosh and his team had argued in court filings that the restrictions were “a rational and justified policy response to a public health threat” that spreads through close contact. They laid out how Hogan consulted with public health and business experts, and emphasized that the governor has acted in accordance with the emergency powers granted to him under state law.

Republican Del. Dan Cox, who represents parts of Carroll and Frederick counties, filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and others. He did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Cox also represents a father and son in Harford County who attempted to vote without a mask last month. The father, Daniel Swain, 52, filed a lawsuit alleging that he was denied the right to vote. It was quickly dismissed by a Harford judge.

Swain was charged with failing to comply with the state’s mask order and trespassing, after officials said he refused to leave the polling site. He has a trial date set for Dec. 4 in Harford District Court.