Judge denies Oregon restaurants lawsuit over COVID freeze

Coronavirus

ORLA said they were being unfairly singled out

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A federal judge rejected an effort from Oregon restaurants to stop the latest COVID-related restrictions imposed by Gov. Kate Brown.

The lawsuit from the Oregon Restaurants and Lodging Association said they were being unfairly singled out. The judge from the Oregon federal district court did not agree and and said the freeze is within the state’s authority.

Two restaurant industry groups filed the lawsuit against Gov. Brown on November 20 in response to her executive order forcing restaurants to move to takeout for 2 weeks, among other measures, as the state combats a spike of COVID-19 cases.

At the time, representatives from the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association (ORLA) and the Restaurant Law Center said the action was taken to “prevent economic devastation.”

‘New approaches’ may be coming soon

After the ruling, Jason Brandt with the ORLA said even though their lawsuit was rejected, their real focus is doing what they can to help people keep their jobs.

“We are not blind to the fact that face coverings have to come off in our industry when you are eating or drinking in a restaurant,” he said. “Our challenge is the inequity having people gather in private spaces up to 6 people, two households, where people are moving around with their face coverings off.”

Even though they’re disappointed, they want to keep working with the governor’s office and, in fact, had good things to say about Brown and her staff.

“It’s incredibly important we approach this challenge in the Oregon way and I am impressed with the staff, with the governor’s office, in the way they have continued to engage us, even filing the lawsuit.”

Brandt said they had 3 meetings Monday with the governor’s office.

“It shows the spirit of collaboration that we all truly believe in Oregon.”

And he also thinks there will be some “new approaches” in the near future.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the Oregon Health Authority or the governor’s office so we look to support whatever those decisions are and try to find a path forward so many of our small businesses can survive as possible,” he said.

The current freeze is in effect until December 3.

“I am hopeful,” Brandt said, “come December 3, at least some of our restaurants in some counties across the state will have the opportunity to have the freeze lifted and have the opportunity to make the revenue they desperately need for their business.”

Wineries want restrictions loosened

Also Tuesday, wineries wrote a letter to Governor Brown asking to allow them to operate outside and offer limited, on-site tastings with more safety precautions.

People inside a wine pod at Willamette Valley Vineyards, November 2020 (Courtesy photo)

Gretchen Boock, the CEO of the Dobbes Family Estate, said they want “to be able to open our tasting rooms after December 3 or as soon as possible even in the most restrictive careful way and layer on additional safety precautions, but to allow us to do outdoor tastings in tents or outdoors spaces, similar to what Washington is allowing.”

If restrictions last until the end of the year, 81 tasting rooms expect to lose about $4.5 million in revenue. Overall in the state, there are 550 tasting rooms.

Boock is worried about how this will impact jobs.

“Safety first. We are trying to find the sweet middle ground to survive it: stay safe and keep some jobs intact and businesses intact.”

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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