After a judge in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, ruled in support of allowing some outdoor dining last week, other jurisdictions received rulings on similar restrictions Wednesday.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland sued Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, as well as Baltimore City, after each jurisdiction imposed some dining bans, mostly targeting indoor dining, following a rise in coronavirus cases across the state.
RAM said Maryland’s restaurant and food industry lost $1.4 billion since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and establishments have had to lay off or furlough about 150,000 workers.
But on Wednesday, some dining bans in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and the City of Baltimore, were ultimately allowed to stay after circuit court judges ruled in their favor.
Prince George’s County
A circuit court judge in Prince George’s County ruled to uphold an indoor dining ban county officials imposed as part of their coronavirus restrictions.
First reported by The Washington Post, Judge John P. Davey said that while the court agrees that a ban would create hardship toward restaurant owners and its employees, county officials have shown “a legitimate government interest” in its desires to limit the spread of the virus and keep hospitals from running out of patient beds.
“While indoor eating at restaurants is but one means of transmitting COVID-19, the County has demonstrated that indoor eating creates an additional risk of spreading the infection because patrons are removing their masks to eat,” Davey said.
The county’s indoor dining ban began Dec. 16 and will remain through Jan. 16.
Outdoor dining will remain at 50% capacity, and restaurants can still offer curbside service and takeout.
In a statement, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks reaffirmed her support of the ban, saying that closing indoor dining gives her “no pleasure” but will save lives.
“This has been an unforeseen and unprecedented time, and I will continue to take all steps possible to support our restaurant community, while preserving the health and well-being of Prince Georgians,” Alsobrooks said.
A circuit court judge also opposed granting a temporary restraining order against Baltimore City’s ban on indoor and outdoor dining.
Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill said in his decision that while the restaurant industry “bears a disproportionate burden in this public health crisis,” city leaders’ decision to ban indoor and outdoor dining was done in the interest of public health, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement that he was pleased with the circuit court’s decision, adding that restrictions will be eased once “it is justifiable by the data.”
“As your Mayor, my top responsibility is ensuring our residents are healthy and safe,” Scott said. “I call on all of our residents to make a point of supporting your local restaurants this holiday season as we get through this difficult and unprecedented time together.”
A Montgomery County Circuit Court has refused to issue a temporary restraining order that would have lifted the county’s eight-day-old ban on indoor restaurant dining.
The Montgomery County Council approved County Executive Marc Elrich’s executive order Dec. 15 limiting county restaurant service to outdoor dining, takeout and delivery to counter the surging number of coronavirus cases.
After hearing hours of testimony Tuesday from restaurant operators and public health officials, Judge James Bonifant ruled that the county council and county executive did not act arbitrarily imposing the ban.
“The county council and county executive are trying to protect the county from the spread of the virus,” Bonifant said.
The judge said the dozens of restaurants can continue their bids for a permanent injunction against the indoor dining ban at a trial, with a date to be set on Monday.
Elrich said he was pleased with the ruling in a statement.
“The steps we have taken throughout the pandemic were done out of a grave concern for public health and today’s ruling supported that notion,” he said.
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WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.