The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) in Lansing, along with plaintiffs Heirloom Hospitality Group in Birmingham and H.I.H. Inc., d/b/a Suburban Inns, in Hudsonville, today filed a federal lawsuit against Robert Gordon in his official capacity as director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The complaint seeks an emergency preliminary injunction to resume on-premise indoor food and beverage consumption.
On Nov. 15, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Gordon announced a sweeping three-week lockdown on certain businesses and educational institutions due to rising cases of COVID-19. Whitmer noted the lockdown would be reviewed in short order, but it could be extended for months.
MRLA officials said they tried to reach a compromise with state officials to prevent restaurant and bar closings, noting the low number of virus-related incidents at restaurants and bars across Michigan.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division. The complaint states COVID-19 Outbreak Investigation data tracked by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services attributes approximately 4.3 percent of all outbreaks to restaurants statewide.
The MRLA also points out that while serving millions of Michiganders each day, there are a total of eight current investigations statewide involving a restaurant patron.
Overall, the association reports the industry plays an integral role in Michigan’s economy, employing more than 595,000 people and creating nearly $40 billion in annual sales.
The lawsuit states: “Plaintiffs seek an emergency preliminary injunction that allows them to immediately resume on-premises, indoor food and beverage consumption. They also seek a permanent injunction protecting those interests, together with costs and actual attorney fees.”
In a statement, MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow, said:
“The MRLA has filed in federal court for injunctive relief from the order issued on November 15 by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), which prohibited indoor dining in restaurants for the second time this year. We have taken this action only after careful deliberation and as the last available option to prevent the outright devastation of restaurant operators and their hundreds of thousands of employees across the state.
“We want to be clear that we made several good faith efforts in advance of the public release of the order issued November 15 to reach a compromise with the MDHHS that would have supported the goal of minimizing risk while still allowing for the continued operation of dining rooms.
“The MRLA committed to substantially increased restrictions on our industry, including reducing capacity in restaurants to 25 percent and implementing a 10 p.m. curfew for the duration of the order. “While our proposal would undeniably challenge an already beleaguered industry, it was presented to Director Gordon and the Executive Office of the Governor in earnest to stave off the far worse impact of outright closure.
“We are hopeful for a swift and decisive victory in court so restaurant operators may return to what we know they do best – adding value to our lives and our economy by providing a great meal and exceptional hospitality in a safe, socially distanced, sanitized, and regulated environment.”
The MRLA further reports:
— The association’s survey data suggests more than 40 percent of restaurants will close, at least temporarily, if dining rooms are closed.
— Approximately 250,000 employees are likely to be laid off from restaurants over the holiday season. With no federal funds and an exhausted Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, it is unclear where the revenue will derive to finance the influx of claims.
— If the closure is prolonged and federal stimulus dollars are not made immediately available, upwards of 6,000 more restaurants will permanently close by spring. For the record, approximately 2,000 restaurants have already closed their doors permanently in Michigan in 2020.
— Closing the restaurant industry will again wreak havoc on the supply chain, which will have an outsized impact on Michigan’s broader economy and possibly imperil basic supplies from reaching Michiganders.
The MRLA provides essential services to the foodservice and lodging community. Founded in 1921 as the Michigan Restaurant Association and now known as the MRLA, the Association represents more than 5,000 Michigan foodservice and lodging establishments.