Judge rules against 20 local bar owners who sued over pandemic restrictions

The owners of 20 Marion County bars and nightclubs who sued the city of Indianapolis and others over pandemic-related restrictions that they allege hurt their businesses failed to prove their case, a district judge ruled Wednesday.

In September, the bars and nightclubs filed suit against Indianapolis, Mayor Joe Hogsett, and the Marion County Public Health Department and its director, Dr. Virginia Caine. The bar owners alleged they “lost significant, irreplaceable revenue, laid off employees, have incurred significant debt” and are in “danger of permanent closure” due to public health orders issued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint was aimed at Marion County’s pandemic public health orders, which included tougher restrictions on bars and nightclubs in the county than those in most of the state.

The complaint was filed by the owners of Tiki Bob’s Cantina, Invy Nightclub, Coaches Tavern, Courtside Convenience, Joe’s Grill Castleton, The Whistle Stop Inn, That Place Bar & Grill, Taps and Dolls, After 6 Lounge, Jokers Comedy Club, 247 Sky Bar, Whiskey Business Southport and Whiskey Business Lawrence, Average Joe Sport’s Pub, Rock Lobster, Mineshaft Saloon, Basey’s Downtown, The Red Room, Mickie’s Pub and Sports Page Lounge.

The owners argued that the restrictions, which restricted capacity limits, bar seating, treatment of adults-only establishments, live entertainment and dancing, and hours of business, violated their constitutional rights.

But Chief Judge Jane. E Magnus Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled in favor of the city defendants, granting their motion for judgment on the pleadings and finding that the bar owners failed to plausibly allege a claim against the city.

“Simply put, Plaintiffs’ de minimis conclusory allegations about the City Defendants—that they somehow worked in ‘conjunction with’ the [health department]— do not tell ‘a story that holds together,’ to meet the pleading standard,” Magnus Stinson wrote in a Jan. 6 decision. “Instead, the allegations are nothing more than conclusions unsupported by factual allegations, and such conclusions are properly excised when evaluating whether the Complaint alleges a plausible entitlement to relief.”

Additionally, the district judge noted that while lacking factual allegations, the bar owners also failed to explain how the city defendants could be liable for actions that the plaintiffs both concede and allege were taken by Caine.

“Furthermore, Plaintiffs’ contention that they are also complaining about the City Defendants’ enforcement of the Public Health Orders, is belied by the absence of any allegations about the City Defendants’ enforcement of the orders in their Complaint,” the district court wrote.

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11 thoughts on “Judge rules against 20 local bar owners who sued over pandemic restrictions

  1. I’d like to thank these business owners for their efforts, including their time & money, fighting this unlawful discrimination against the restaurant and bar businesses. When this is over, I hope those of us left standing can take another run at this.

    1. The issue isn’t the closures, it’s the pandemic. These businesses need government support until the virus passes. Even without government restrictions, traffic will be down to a point where restaurants can’t survive.

      We bai out banks, we bail out auto manufacturers, yet we don’t help small businesses. Anger should be levied at those at the federal level who sat on their hands when they should have been helping people.

  2. The legalistic language used above, although I am quite sure is lawful, does not take into account the intent of law. Laws are intended to do what is best for the populace and those that write them and “interpret” them are put in the positions they occupy to try and do what is right for all concerned. It sounds like these bar owners are being asked to “prove” that they are being hurt by the capricious and carelessly issued “orders” handed down from on high by the political establishment in charge. Being forced to cut jobs and eventually close their businesses is not enough evidence in the opinion of this judge to “prove” their case. The politicians and judicial persons need to be asking the people issuing the “emergency measures” to provide any substantial proof that the restrictions they have handed down actually work and slow the spread of COVID 19 or any other communicable disease. The “emergency” orders, at the very least should have had real deadlines and time restrictions that required real scientific proof of their validity and not just “scientific opinion.” In a FREE society we cannot have open ended governance by a few people that have no checks or balances to contain their behavior.
    If the people that pay the taxes and provide the jobs and money that make the local community work continue to be dismissed and ignored we face rather grim times ahead.

    1. Why is the anger being directed at the politicians following the best known science of the time (indoor, unmasked dining is very dangerous) … as opposed to the politicians letting all these restaurants close through inaction? You realize we are choosing to let restaurants fail, right?

      With no orders, a significant chunk of people will still not go out to eat. Restaurants need their businesses filled and there are not enough customers choosing to go out to eat. Restaurants are screwed until the virus is under control. The virus is the issue, not the restrictions.

      Just magically removing restrictions won’t fill restaurants, it will just fill hospitals.

    2. Neil, it has been proven. You can’t have a deadline when the pandemic has no sign off date.

  3. Sick of all the crybabies that don’t care if others live or die. There is a pandemic with a new more contagious strain out there and it will not end with people running around flouting the health concerns of others. I have never seen such a bunch of selfish people claiming it is their “freedom” to make others sick and even die.

    1. The “science” thus far has shown an extremely low rate of transmission within restaurants and bars, something under 1.5% compared to family gatherings. It’s okay for Walmart and the Kroger’s of the world to stay open, but not local businesses. More hypocrisy and suffering caused by inept, power hunger politicians.

    2. They probably have a low transmission rate because … they’re under restrictions to slow the spread. So, the restrictions work.

      I’m glad people care about keeping local businesses open now but were perfectly OK with letting Wal-mart devastate untold Indiana small business districts the last 30 years…

      Despite people being so upset about local businesses closing, they sent all of the Republican representatives who have been sitting on their hands back to Congress. So, obviously, not that upset.

  4. So much for a government of the people, by the people, for the people. These 20 should reopen with the protocols in defiance. Not a cop on the best would interfere with them.

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