Cuomo Suffers Significant Court Loss to Angry Restaurant Owners
New York restaurants won a round in their court battle with Gov. Andrew Cuomo after a ruling allowed restaurants in so-called “orange zones” in upstate New York to reopen for indoor dining.
On Wednesday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Henry Nowak granted a preliminary injunction to a number of restaurants in Erie County that sued the governor and the state, saying that the state’s order to ban indoor dining was not based on any sensible interpretation of data.
Although it rejected some of the claims made by the restaurant owners, the ruling granted the injunction under the section of their claim that Cuomo’s edict had “no rational basis” for declaring certain areas in Erie County orange zones.
Cuomo’s office responded by allowing restaurants in any orange zone in Upstate New York to reopen indoor dining, with two restrictions: restaurants should remain limited to 50 percent capacity and tables must have no more than four customers at a time, according to the New York Daily News.
Kumiki Gibson, counsel to the governor, said that as the state considers its options with regard to the lawsuit, it will allow all orange-zone restaurants to have indoor dining “to ensure uniformity and fairness.”
Restaurant owners were largely pleased and said they would ensure the rules were not broken.
“Let’s do it the right way, let’s lead by example,” Brandon Carr, the owner of one of the 37 restaurants suing Cuomo, told WKBW-TV. “Stay at the 50 percent capacity, make sure tables are distanced, masks are on when they’re not seated and let’s do this appropriately for everybody.”
“We’re very happy,” said David Cleary, an owner of Pudgie’s Pizza, Pasta & Subs, according to The Associated Press. “We’ve been very patient the last 80-plus days. It’s good for all restaurants and dine-ins, especially mom-and-pop locations.”
The ruling focused less on the impact of dining indoors than the state’s method of designating areas as being in green, yellow, orange or red zones — each with different levels of restrictions.
“Considering the record presented, this court cannot find evidence that the State had a rational basis to designate portions of Erie County as an Orange Zone on November 18, 2020,” the court document said.
The court ruled there had been “irreparable injury” to the restaurants impacted by the indoor dining ban.
“The loss of goodwill that corresponds with a viable business is not readily quantifiable and constitutes irreparable harm warranting the grant of preliminary injunctive relief,” the ruling said.
“Petitioners have also demonstrated that the Orange Zone designation has caused loss of revenue, unemployment, potential foreclosure and hardship upon Erie County residents.”
The ruling also said that the decision to impose orange zone restrictions caused havoc for those suing the state.
“For petitioners, the effect of this change in designation was dramatic. As a result of the prohibition of all indoor dining in the new Orange Zone, thousands of employees have been laid off and petitioners have suffered financial losses to the point where their bars and restaurants will need to close,” the court ruled, noting that it could not find rhyme or reason in how the state used data to decide which areas of the state were in green, yellow, orange or red zones.
The ruling does not apply to New York City, though advocates for indoor dining hope the court’s decision will eventually prompt other areas of the state to do the same.
“Continuation of the indoor dining ban in New York City is divorced from any of the data and criteria the State has articulated and must be ended now,” Andrew Rigie and Robert Bookman of the NYC Hospitality Alliance told the Daily News.
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