Federal judges rule against reopening restaurants, bars in both lawsuits against health department

Watch: Federal judges rule against reopening restaurants, bars in both lawsuits against health department

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The restaurant industry believes they can provide safety and service.

But two federal judges just denied a group of restaurant and bar owners requests for a temporary restraining order against the Shelby County Health Department in an attempt to reopen their dining rooms.

RELATED: 17 Memphis restaurants sue health department, county government to reopen during COVID-19 closure

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These businesses were closed in mid-July because they technically sold more booze than food.

Jeannette Comans, the owner of Blind Bear in downtown, said her doors have been closed for weeks and she says offering takeout isn’t financially feasible.

“I have spent nine years of blood, sweat and tears to make it this far and for this just to end because they decide we don’t sell enough food, it’s not right,” she said.

This week, two federal judges denied requests from a group of 17 bar and restaurant owners in two different lawsuits for a temporary restraining order against the health department.

Both lawsuits claimed Health Directive No. 8, which closed 45 limited-service bars and restaurants across the county, wasn’t fair.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes, Jr. said the health department took into account bar outbreaks in other states when making their decision. He stated the group of restaurant owners was incorrect when it stated there wasn’t a conceivable rational basis for the directive. “Defendants do not have to set forth evidence or empirical data, but rather can rely upon rational speculation to support their decision,” he wrote in his opinion.

Additionally, the judge said the court recognizes the hardships imposed by the directive. “However Defendants’ decision to temporarily close plaintiffs is legally sound. What is legal may not always be fair, but legality must prevail over fairness,” said Fowlkes in the ruling.

But Comans still believes the ruling isn’t right.

“Let us be open like any other restaurant. Close by 10 p.m., only two hours, we were already doing all the things we needed to do to make sure it was safe and we’ll abide by all those rules. We just want to be open,” said Comans.

And now she isn’t sure how they will survive.

“I don’t know what everyone is going to do. I mean not joking if people have jobs tag me on Facebook and I’ll share it with my people because we all, I have to find someplace to work because someone has to support [Blind] Bear until we get open again,” she said.

Comans said some of the owners tried to talk with the health department about the directive before they filed the lawsuit, but she says they never got a response.

She said they may make another attempt to have a conversation.

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