MISSION TOWNSHIP — More than 15 months after the state of Minnesota first threatened to suspend its liquor license for violating pandemic-related executive orders, Mission Tavern has won a victory in its fight against government measures. ‘execution.
Mission Tavern owner Jeff McCulloch said he received a dismissal order last week from Minnesota’s Office of Administrative Hearings, the agency responsible for presiding over challenges to state and local government actions. The dismissal was requested by Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on March 22 in light of an order last spring in which Administrative Judge James LaFave found the department had exceeded its powers. . Proceedings were stayed in April 2021 after LaFave certified the order.
“It’s really frustrating dealing with the state because they take so long,” McCulloch said Thursday, March 31. “But I think it’s good that we beat them in the liquor license business. Maybe it’s good news for other restaurants that have dealt with this stuff to see that , you know, we won a case. So, I sound positive.
Although the company was successful in its lawsuit against the Minnesota Division of Alcohol and Gaming, a separate suspension of its food and beverage license by the Minnesota Department of Health made still the subject of litigation. In this case, LaFave sided with the health department, recommending that Mission Tavern’s license be suspended for 40 days with a 20-day reprieve and subject to a $7,500 fine, with $2,500 in reprieve. Attorney Richard Dahl, who represents Mission Tavern, filed a petition with the Minnesota Court of Appeals challenging the order.
The suspensions stem from instances where Mission Tavern opened for indoor dining in November and December 2020 in defiance of Governor Tim Walz’s executive order limiting dine-in service to pickup only. In one case, a health inspector saw about 25 people eating and drinking inside, and restaurant workers were not wearing masks. Two weeks later, on December 11, 2020, a Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Deputy witnessed a nearly full parking lot and approximately 30-40 people inside.
The Enforcement Division found the company violated Walz’s order and served Mission Tavern with a 30-day suspension, pending an administrative hearing. Mission Tavern appealed the suspension, which resulted in a contested hearing.
In seeking a summary judgment in its favor, the state argued that there was no real issue regarding a material fact in the case and that it was entitled to a judgment in its favor at law. LaFave, however, felt that state law does not grant the Enforcement Division the authority to suspend Mission Tavern’s liquor license because of its violations of the executive order, although it does no doubt they had intentionally defied orders.
“With respect to the first part of (the law), the Department may suspend Mission Tavern’s license if it “has failed to comply with any applicable law, rule, or ordinance relating to liquor or the operation of liquor. ‘an approved establishment,'” the order said. . “The Department agrees that the Executive Orders are not a law, rule, or ordinance as those terms are used in (the statute). Executive Orders are distinct from these other types of Orders. »
While the state argued violating the executive order, Mission Tavern also violated state law granting Walz the power to declare states of emergency and issue such orders, LaFave described that argument. as “simply too tenuous” and noted that he could not insert language the Legislature left out the law governing the enforcement of liquor licenses.
“The pandemic gripping our country and this state is real, and it is serious. Effects include severe damage to Mission Tavern owners and employees. Their lives were turned upside down and they were crippled financially. But, as rationally articulated, Governor Walz issued executive orders to protect the health of individuals and communities across the state,” the executive order reads.
“Decrees have the force of law and can be enforced by the judiciary. Here, the Department is asking for an administrative sanction. But, in the plain language of (the law) as enacted by the legislature, and without additional license conditions duly imposed by a local authority, violation of an executive order does not provide a legal basis for sanctioning the Mission Tavern liquor license.
The Alcohol and Gambling Division was responsible for enforcing executive orders related to closures and restrictions at bars and restaurants and conducted visits to verify compliance with mask requirements, adherence to social distancing, group size limits, signs communicating mask requirements, employee health screening protocols. and capacity limits.
According to the division, 1,344 bars and restaurants were visited between June 25 and December 31, 2020. The division sent 18 warning letters to bars and restaurants for non-compliance with the executive orders and issued license suspension notices to five other businesses: Boardwalk Bar and Grill in East Grand Forks, Cork’s in Anoka, Cornerstone in Monticello, The Pour House in Clarks Grove and Neighbors on the Rum in Princeton. The liquor license revocation notices were received by The Interchange in Albert Lea and Alibi’s in Lakeville, which were also the subject of criminal misdemeanor investigations.
In siding with the Department of Health in the food and beverage licensing action, LaFave made the distinction between separate state law governing enforcement actions for those licenses. This law—the Health Enforcement Consolidation Act of 1993—provides the legal basis by which the Department of Health can enforce laws, rules, and ordinances pertaining to Minnesota food and beverage establishments. Not only does this law include the word “order” in its language, but it relates directly to those in force or enacted for the preservation of public health.
When the final order on the matter was issued in January of this year, a total of 18 cases had been prosecuted by the department for violation of the executive order. Of these, two were not appealed, three had appeals pending and the others were resolved.
In arguing for sanctions against Mission Tavern, the health department argued that its conduct was more serious than any other establishment allowed to retain its license.
“The Department notes that the defendants violated two cease and desist orders and had a significant history of violations of the executive order. The Department also notes that the defendants had an associated COVID-19 outbreak prior to receiving the Cease and desist,” the order reads. “…The evidence against the respondents was strong and compelling…and warrants a more severe sentence.”
Oral arguments have not yet taken place on the pending appeal of the suspension of Mission Tavern’s restaurant license.
CHELSEY PERKINS, Community Editor, can be reached at 218-855-5874 or
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