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.