A federal judge Friday denied a temporary restraining order sought by a group of Acadiana bar owners against Gov. John Bel Edwards' coronavirus restrictions. The order would have allowed the bars to reopen.
Instead, U.S. Western District Judge Robert Summerhays scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Aug. 17 in Lafayette to determine whether to issue an injunction that would allow the owners to reopen until a trial can be held on the lawsuit the bar owners filed to overturn Edwards' coronavirus restrictions.
The bar owners' attorney, Jimmy Faircloth of Alexandria, confirmed the judge's decision.
"I'm not surprised," Faircloth said. "This is high stakes and I completely understand the judge wanting to have a complete record."
Faircloth has filed an identical lawsuit and motion for a temporary restraining order for a group of Houma-area bar owners in the U.S. Eastern District Court in New Orleans. No rulings have been made in that case.
The bar owners argue the governor's coronavirus restrictions are too strict and unfairly target one business sector.
In the lawsuit, Faircloth argues that Edwards cannot show a “real or substantial relation” between the closure of bars to onsite drinking and the public health crisis. Faircloth said only a small number of known COVID-19 cases have been traced to bars by the state, and he said none of those cases were traced to the Acadiana bars in question.
Bars have come under scrutiny at a state and national level as public health experts identify them as hotspots for the virus. The Louisiana Department of Health says it has traced 464 confirmed coronavirus infections to 41 bars, among the largest number of cases tracked to a specific type of business.
The Acadiana bar owners argue in their lawsuit that the virus cases traced to bars represent less than half of 1% of the more than 100,000 confirmed cases across Louisiana. The lawsuit says bars do not pose a disproportionately high risk to the public that justifies restrictions targeted specifically to them. They say Edwards’ actions violate federal and state constitutional protections.
In the lawsuit, Faircloth said Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions “may have warranted the benefit of the doubt” in the early days of the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus. But he argues that more scientific data is available that undermines Edwards’ decision.
Edwards banned onsite consumption at bars earlier this month after previously allowing bars to reopen at reduced capacity with restaurants and other businesses. The governor and his health advisers said bars have been specifically problematic because people tend to huddle closely together inside without masks while drinking, and lapse in their virus precautions the more alcohol they consume.