SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - More than a dozen restaurants in the Mid-South that were forced to close last week are now suing the Shelby County government and health department.
Lawsuits have been filed by two separate attorneys on behalf of 17 bars that were shut down last week by the Shelby County Health Department over concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
The lawsuits filed in federal court Monday basically say the businesses were singled out without any evidence the businesses were responsible for a spike in COVID-19 cases. The bars want a judge to let them reopen.
“It wasn’t something, I don’t think any of us wanted to have to do, but the way the health department handled this shutdown,” said Owner of Dru’s Bar Tammi Montgomery.
Montgomery along with more than a dozen bar and restaurant owners shut down by the Shelby County Health Department felt they had no choice but to file the lawsuit. The health department shut down the businesses according to their license saying they serve more alcohol than food.
“They closed down our dining room based on guidelines that is completely arbitrary,” said Nick Scott, owner of Alchemy.
Scott and Montgomery say there is no proof their businesses contributed to the increase in cases.
“If all the businesses have to shut down to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 we will do that but don’t single us out as a PR stunt and make us shut down while our competitors right next door don’t have to,” said Randy Songstad, who represents the other group of bar owners.
He says they don’t want any businesses shut down.
“They want equal application of the order where everybody can coexist without losing businesses,” said Songstad.
The health department shut down more than 40 businesses with limited-service licenses last week.
”Our goal is to expose the ineffectiveness and incompetence in the health department and the people who are making the decisions,” said Scott.
The Shelby County mayor’s office defended the health departments order saying it was necessary because of the pandemic, adding bar business is a social setting and social distancing is one strategy to stop the spread.
“In an attempt to act like they were doing something in response to it they did a PR stunt. It’s just a PR stunt,” said Attorney Robert Spence.
The attorneys are seeking an injunction so the bars can reopen. They expect to have a court date this week.