The state Health Department’s effort to shut down a barbecue restaurant that has ignored a state requirement for customers and employees to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus will move forward in Livingston Parish following months of delays.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to weigh in on if the case should be moved to Baton Rouge, the seat of the state government, or remain in Livingston, the parish seat.
The decision echoes a 1st Circuit Court of Appeals decision to pass on whether or not the case should be moved to the state capital.
Brian K. Abels, the Livingston Parish district judge presiding over the case, raised the question ahead of a hearing in August and allowed the state's lawyers to ask a higher court where the case should be heard.
The decision was endorsed by six of the seven justices. Chief Justice John Weimer would have granted the motion to move the trial to East Baton Rouge, documents said.
The Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday came without comment.
The restaurant celebrated the decision on Facebook Tuesday, calling it a “great start to 2021.”
“I just got word from my attorney that in the first group of decisions to be made from the Louisiana Supreme Court, 6 out of 7 justices decided against the opposing counsel's application to move our case to East Baton Rouge Parish,” read a post on the restaurant’s page. “We will be having the case heard in Livingston Parish!!”
The restaurant’s owner, Eunice Danielle Bunch, 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 say the restaurant is endangering public health, and Edwards said the restaurant is being “reckless and irresponsible” in August.
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.
The restaurant then refused to close, and the state later sued the restaurant over its refusal. During the months since, it’s continued to operate and the owner, Eunice Danielle Bunch, said she has no plans to close.
Abels approved a restraining order in August that barred the Health Department from taking any action against the restaurant while the case proceeds.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings for everyone in public who is unable to maintain social distance from others. Asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers of the virus account for an estimated 50% of transmissions, according to the CDC, and face coverings reduce the spread of droplets from those who are infectious.
No hearing date has been set as of Tuesday afternoon.