DC bar that lost liquor license for violating COVID regulations files suit against health dept.

A D.C. bar that lost its liquor license for not complying with vaccine rules filed a lawsuit against the District’s health department, challenging the city’s right to close it during the pandemic.

The Big Board on H Street Northeast was closed from January until April, after D.C. pulled its liquor license for violating its vaccine mandate.

The bar is asking the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to find that the city broke the law when it extended its public heath emergency orders to avoid a 30-day Congressional review period, which kicks in after typical legislation is passed.

“DC Health’s suspension of The Big Board’s license violated federal law governing the District of Columbia’s authority to pass ordinances and other laws. Specifically, the District of Columbia’s Home Rule Act,” court documents said. Under the Home Rule government, Congress reviews all legislation passed by the Council before it can become law.

Big Board said Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “rolling ’emergency’ orders authorized by the D.C. Council’s successive emergency amendments make a mockery of this constitutional requirement …  As a result, the Mayor’s Orders upon which the DC Health suspension and fines relied are ultra vires, and the suspension and the fines themselves, are ultra vires, null, and void.” Ultra vires means acting or done beyond one’s legal power or authority.

Bowser had declared a public health emergency at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and it was extended throughout. In January, Bowser declared a “limited public health emergency” lasting through Jan. 26.

The bar is also asking the court to say that the penalties levied by DC Health, including the restoration fee to reinstate its license — $100 — was unlawful, and should be returned, as well as any other costs and fees DC Health assessed as a result of the order.

The bar closed for almost two months before paying to get its license back without admitting wrongdoing.

In August, a judge ruled that city government workers in the District can no longer be punished for choosing not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, effectively throwing out the COVID-19 vaccine mandate that applied to all D.C. employees.

The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has declined to comment.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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