Baltimore Eateries Lose Bid To End Pandemic Dining Ban

By Joyce Hanson
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Law360 (January 15, 2021, 6:37 PM EST) -- A judge in Baltimore has upheld the city's on-premises dining ban due to COVID-19, denying the Restaurant Association of Maryland's lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order so that financially distressed eateries can serve customers on their premises during the pandemic.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill denied the Maryland trade group's temporary restraining order petition on Thursday evening in an open court proceeding where he heard the restaurants' arguments before deciding in favor of Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott and the city council. Dozens of restaurant companies joined the association in its complaint.

The mayor acknowledged in a statement Thursday that the Baltimore ban on both indoor and outdoor dining is a hardship for restaurants but said it has been imposed due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

"This ruling was fundamentally about the health and safety of Baltimoreans," Scott said. "While we're all anxious to get back to some sense of normalcy, we must continue to take precautions until the data determines it is safe to reopen. The actions we take today help protect the ones we love and avoid another shutdown like this in the future."

Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said in a statement Thursday that restaurant owners may leave Baltimore due to the ruling and that customers will continue to dine in restaurants located in other counties that don't impose draconian bans.

"Not only are we disappointed in the judge's ruling, but also in what appears to be an impossible standard to meet in order for restaurants to reopen in Baltimore City," Weston said. "The models being used to make decisions are not based on actual events or data and are only mathematical exercises as to what might happen."

Baltimore's indoor-outdoor dining ban went into effect in early December, and the Restaurant Association of Maryland filed suit on Dec. 21. The city's eateries continue to be open for takeout and delivery.

The trade group last month also filed suit in Montgomery and Prince George's counties to request temporary restraining orders on dining bans in those jurisdictions, and judges in both jurisdictions have denied those requests.

Elsewhere in the state, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Nov. 10 imposed an order limiting restaurants to 50% of their capacity for indoor dining, down from an earlier 75% reduction. Hogan has left it up to local governments to impose stricter measures if they see fit.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland is represented by Michelle Mtimet and Joseph Zauner of Zauner & Mtimet PA.

The mayor is represented by Kurt A. Heinrich of the Baltimore City Department of Law.

The case is Restaurant Association of Maryland Inc. et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City, case number 24C20005155, in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

--Editing by Daniel King.

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