Wedding Venue Brings Federal Action Against Governor Cuomo Over 50 Person Limit (NY)
In an attempt to limit the transmission of COVID-19, Governor Cuomo issued a mandate limiting the amount of people allowed at a social or recreational gathering to no more than fifty (50) people. In response to this Order, on August 28, 2020, New York wedding venues field a federal class action lawsuit against Governor Cuomo and other state officials. In Bill & Ted’s Riviera, Inc., plaintiffs allege that Governor Cuomo’s Order violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Plaintiffs argue that while the mandate is neutral on its face, it is applied in unequal ways. Specifically, it is alleged that Governor Cuomo makes exceptions for restaurants, which are allowed to serve patrons up to 50% their regular occupancy limit, while the 50-person cap is strictly applied for weddings. It is further alleged that Governor Cuomo has enacted this 50-person restriction despite the fact that “there is no material difference between a wedding and regular dinner service to justify disparate treatment.” Plaintiffs seek, inter alia, an injunction restraining defendants from enforcing the 50-person limit and a declaration that the 50-person limit is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the Plaintiffs.
This is not the first instance where a government official has been sued over COVID-19 restrictions. In March, Pennsylvania business owners filed an emergency petition against Tom Wolf over his Executive Order mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s constitutional challenge and upheld Governor Wolf’s Order. In deciding these issues, the courts will need to balance the interest of public safety with the interests of the business. Only time will tell how courts will decide these constitutional challenges.
In the meantime, it is likely more lawsuits will be commenced over other various government orders related to COVID. We will continue to keep you updated as events progress.
Thanks to Rachel Thompson for her contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Colleen Hayes.