California Restaurant Association Wins Case Against County for Shutting Down In-Person Dining

Outdoor dining, Pixabay
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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled against the LA County Health Department in a legal challenge from the California Restaurant Association after the county shut down outdoor and indoor in-person restaurant dining indefinitely. Judge Chalfant wrote, “By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the County acted arbitrarily, and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end.”

The California Restaurant Association tried to block the county order last month before it took effect. Judge Chalfant denied that request but ultimately ordered the county to submit evidence to support its decision. The restaurant trade group argued that the rule was arbitrary and unfair to businesses that had invested in outdoor dining spaces to weather the pandemic. -GEG

A judge on Tuesday dealt a rebuke to Los Angeles County public health officials racing to control Covid-19’s spread, blocking an indefinite ban on outdoor dining announced late last month.

“By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the County acted arbitrarily and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end,” wrote Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant in a tentative ruling issued Tuesday to a legal challenge from the California Restaurant Association.

The tentative ruling to block the open-ended ban won’t have immediate practical consequences for Los Angeles-area restaurants, as the county is now under a temporary stay-home order tied to the region’s quickly diminishing ICU capacity. But it marks a symbolic and legal victory for those challenging the emergency powers flexed by state and local officials — and a rare setback for public health authorities facing a worsening crisis.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, who was named in the lawsuit, declined to comment about the case when asked during a briefing Monday. A spokesperson for Los Angeles County said in a statement Tuesday that “Los Angeles County is committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents from a deadly virus that has claimed the lives of nearly 8,000 of our friends, family and neighbors and that has sickened more than 450,000 people just in L.A. County.”

The nation’s most populous county, with more than 10 million residents, reported 8,547 new cases on Tuesday alone. Its five-day average shot to nearly 9,000, almost double the five-day average for the day after Thanksgiving that triggered the local order. The county also for the first time reported a daily hospitalization tally exceeding 3,000.

California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly on Tuesday acknowledged the state’s regional prohibition on outdoor dining has more to do with preventing gatherings and limiting movement than the activity itself.

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