(The Center Square) — More than 40 St. Louis-area restaurants and the Missouri Restaurant Association (MRA) are legally challenging St. Louis County’s right to impose the COVID-19 emergency pandemic restrictions that went into effect Tuesday.
Under a Nov. 12 emergency order issued by County Executive Sam Page and Acting Health Director Emily Douchette, all St. Louis County businesses, including gyms, and places of worship, as of Nov. 17, were reduced to 25 percent occupancy from 50 percent and masks will be required.
Under Page’s order, bars and restaurants are closed to inside patrons, although outside dining and take-out food and cocktails are allowed.
The lawsuit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court Wednesday claims Page and Douchette overreached in unilaterally issuing the emergency order without consulting the St. Louis County Council.
The uneven regional approach is among the biggest complaints of St. Louis County restaurant owners frustrated with Page.
“Restaurants in St. Louis County will be devastated by this shutting down of in-person dining,” said MRA CEO Bob Bonney, whose association includes 1,000 members.
“Many industry employees will find themselves out of work with the holidays approaching,” Bonney said. “This temporary order will likely result in the permanent closure of many restaurants across the county.”
The suit was initiated by Bartolino’s, a family-owned Italian eatery in St. Louis County and has since been joined by Circle 7 Ranch, Syberg’s Family Restaurants, The Shack Restaurant Group, Tucker’s, Mike Duffy’s Pub & Grill, Mia Sorella, 3 Kings, Corner Pub & Grill, Harpo’s, Fitz’s South County, Massa’s, Satchmo’s Bar & Grill and Bartolino’s South.
The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association supported the suit on social media, it a tweet , “Farm families need Missouri restaurants to succeed, which can be done safely.”
The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership has not taken a position on the suit, but has appealed to St. Louis County to roll out aid to restaurants by year’s end.
The suit claims Page and Douchette “view COVID-19 as conferring an unfettered power upon them to regulate private conduct in whatever manner they deem necessary without any procedural, substantive or temporal constraints on their authority” and claims the “unilateral” executive order usurped the County Council’s authority, avoided procedural safeguards such as a public notice and comment periods, and will ultimately force restaurants to lay off staff or close down.
Beyond restaurants and bars, the new St. Louis County restrictions prohibit groups of more than 10 people from gathering, mandates masks for anyone at least six years old in public and requires people to stay home unless necessary.
St. Louis city and surrounding counties have not initiated similar restrictions. The uneven regional approach is among the biggest complaints in the restaurant owners’ suits.
Page defended the order during news briefings over the week as necessary to blunt the surging pandemic and was confident the county’s health order would stand.
“We have been through this before over the past eight months and we know how all of these legal actions will work out for those who are defying the public health orders,” he said.
The city of St. Louis has not issued any new orders, still maintaining a cap of 50 percent capacity in restaurants and bars.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said there has not been enough evidence of cases linked to restaurants to justify any further actions by the city.
Nearby St. Charles and Jefferson counties have declined to issue mask mandates. Both allow indoor dining.