Businesses sue Gov. Brown over shutdown, ‘due process violations’

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One lawyer behind the suit says the COVID response is "a huge test for our civil liberties"

CANBY, Ore. (KOIN) — Nine Oregon businesses and nonprofits are suing Gov. Kate Brown, arguing her response to the COVID-19 pandemic is “irrational, unreasonable” and violates their due process rights.

The claim was filed Tuesday in the United States District Court. Last week, KOIN 6 News spoke with Tyler Smith, one of two attorneys behind the suit. Smith would not confirm whether he was working on any lawsuits on behalf of businesses at the time, but said he expected to see “an avalanche of cases where people have had their due process rights violated.”

Tyler Smith sits in his office May 7, 2020 in Canby (Hannah Ray Lambert)

“The government cannot take your life, liberty or your property without giving you a notice and an opportunity to be heard about whether the deprivation of that right was wrongful or rightful,” Smith said.

Some of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit include PDX Muscle, a gym in Beaverton; Kuebler’s Furniture in Salem; Hood River Mixer Shop, Inc., which operates liquor stores in the Gorge; Under the Skin Tattoo, in Hood River; and Open Our Oregon, a Hood River nonprofit organized to help businesses combating the governor’s shutdown orders.

The suit argues, in part, that restrictions were originally put in place due to the belief that COVID-19 cases would overwhelm medical facilities. However, over time, forecasts of the impact of COVID-19 have “dropped dramatically.”

Plaintiffs also claim there has not been a significant overall rise in deaths in the state, demonstrated by weekly data released by the Oregon Department of Health. They question the logic of “suddenly destroying the livelihoods of many thousands of Oregonians” and “irrational distinctions between essential and nonessential categories” of business.

The suit asks for a judgement declaring the governor’s executive orders 20-07 and 20-12 null and void as they relate to the operation of businesses. It also asks for costs and “reasonable attorneys’ and expert fees,” as well as any other “relief” that may be appropriate.

KOIN 6 News reached out to Brown’s office for comment on the lawsuit, but has not heard back yet.

A “huge test for our civil liberties”

Prior to the lawsuit being filed, Smith told KOIN 6 News he’s never seen such a widespread taking of rights by the government, from economic liberties to religious freedom and personal freedoms such as the right to travel and visit with family.

“This is unprecedented and it’s a huge test for our civil liberties,” he said. “And I think people are finally starting to wake up to the fact that this is overbroad and not really calculated to address all of the safety precautions while at the same time respecting peoples’ liberties.”

Cities across Oregon have seen pushback on the executive orders for some time now. A crowd of supporters gathered in front of Salem’s Glamour Salon last week when owner Lindsey Graham decided to reopen. Pappy’s Greasy Spoon in Canby got a visit from police after the restaurant opened for dine-in service. One week later, dozens of customers ordered takeout and ate in the restaurant’s parking lot to show support.

Smith, whose office is visible from Pappy’s parking lot, says people who accuse business owners of being selfish when they reopen are not seeing the full picture.

“People don’t usually go to work because it’s a whole lot of fun, they go to work because they have bills to pay, they have mouths to feed,” he said, adding that many of the businesses fighting to reopen are mom and pop stores or startups from young people who have put their savings on the line. “They can see their future collapsing.”

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