Hennepin County Judge Laurie J. Miller has upheld Minneapolis’ new vaccine-or-test rule for customers against a challenge from a group of restaurant and bar owners.
In the ruling issued late Friday, Miller opined that business owners who sued the city and Mayor Jacob Frey were only speculating that the mandate was the cause of their losses, when sales could have dropped because patrons are trying to avoid the omicron variant and the cold.
“The Court recognizes that the pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on bars and restaurants, but the City cannot be held responsible for general pandemic-related business losses,” Miller wrote.
Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter jointly announced earlier this month that customers would need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days in order to dine in at eateries licensed by the cities. They said the measures were necessary to prevent more drastic measures seen in the earliest days of the pandemic, when cities closed restaurants and bars en masse.
Many business owners had a week’s notice to implement the new rules, with some opting to close dine-in sections and revert to take-out only. A group of restauranteurs who own Smack Shack, the Gay 90’s, Sneaky Pete’s, Urban Entertainment, Wild Greg’s Saloon, Urban Forage, Jimmy John’s, and others asked the court for a temporary restraining order. They expressed concerns that the mandate forced them to hire additional employees to check vaccine cards and exposed employees to backlash from angry patrons.
The city responded that some patrons may be encouraged to eat out more because the new regulations make it safer for them to do so, setting off any losses from would-be customers who are alienated by the mandate. The city also argued restaurants that serve alcohol are already required to check IDs, and so checking for vaccine status or a negative test should not be overly burdensome.
“At the end of the day, the City has been and continues to be focused on helping everyone in our community — residents and businesses — safely navigate this incredibly challenging time,” said Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader in a statement.
In his own statement, plaintiff’s attorney Jeffrey O’Brien criticized the ruling for coming “as COVID-19 rates continue to fall precipitously in the City of Minneapolis, while the harm to its restaurants and bars only continues to mount.”