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Patrons come and go from Firehouse BBQ on LA-16 during lunchtime, Tuesday, August 11, 2020, in Livingston Parish.

The state Health Department's attempt to shut down a barbecue restaurant that has resisted a state requirement that employees and customers wear masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus will move forward in Livingston Parish following weeks of delays.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday declined to weigh in on whether the case should continue in Baton Rouge, the seat of state government, or in Livingston, the parish seat.

Brian K. Abels, the Livingston Parish district judge presiding over the case, raised the question ahead of a hearing a month ago and allowed the state's lawyers to ask a higher court where the case should be heard.

The case has been bogged down in procedure since the Louisiana Department of Health pulled Firehouse BBQ's food permit in late July after inspectors noted employees and customers weren't wearing masks.

State lawyers later sued the restaurant and its owner when it didn't close. During that time, it's continued to operate and its owner says she has no plans to close.

Abels approved a restraining order that barred the Health Department from taking any action against the restaurant. Lawyers for the state had also asked the judge to hold the restaurant in contempt of court for violating a separate court order that required Firehouse to close.

Eunice Danielle Bunch, the restaurant's owner, has called Gov. John Bel Edwards' statewide mandate on face-coverings "illegal" and unfair because it forces businesses to enforce the state's rules.

Lawyers for the state Health Department have said the restaurant endangered public health, and the governor previously called out the restaurant for being "reckless and irresponsible."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous health experts have stressed the importance of face coverings. They say masks limit the spread of the virus, which is mainly spread through respiratory droplets when a person coughs, talks or even breathes.

No new hearing date had been set as of Wednesday afternoon.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad