A California judge issued a ruling on Tuesday that said Los Angeles County acted “arbitrarily” and without rational justification when it banned outdoor dining late last month, according to reports.
“The Restaurant Closure Order is an abuse of the Department’s emergency powers, is not grounded in science, evidence, or logic, and should be adjudicated to be unenforceable as a matter of law,” wrote Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant in a tentative ruling, according to Politico.
The ruling was seen as a symbolic victory for restaurants and a rebuke to Los Angeles County public health officials hoping to control a recent COVID-19 surge. Chalfant noted that due to the state’s overriding regional stay-at-home order through the Christmas holiday, “outdoor restaurant dining in the county cannot reopen at this time.”
County officials said they “vehemently” disagreed with the judge’s tentative order that was finalized following an afternoon hearing. Attorney Amnon Siegel, who represented the county, argued during the meeting that an economic analysis Chalfant had requested was not required by law and a “borderline impossible task,” according to FOX 11 of Los Angeles.
He also noted the problems with secondary transmission of the virus and the risks associated with uncontrolled community transmission. The judge, however, said the county’s argument was inconsistent with the evidence, adding that it failed to justify its decision to shutter outdoor dining or perform the required risk-benefit analysis about the restriction, reports said.
In his ruling, Chalfant wrote that outbreak data provided to the court showed that cases related to bars and restaurants made up of just 3.1% of the non-residential outbreak locations and “the vast majority of which were chain/fast food type restaurants” that mostly involved employees instead of customers, the paper reported.
Chalfant added that L.A. County “could be expected to consider the economic cost of closing 30,000 restaurants, the impact to restaurant owners and their employees, and the psychological and emotional cost to a public tired of the pandemic,” according to the station.
The ruling was issued following a legal challenge from the California Restaurant Association. On Tuesday, CEO Jot Condie argued that California public health officials were closing restaurants without substantial scientific evidence.
“For nine months now, we’ve listened to our public health officials tell us that these shutdown orders are based on or they are guided by evidence and science, and we have an L.A. health department who has essentially targeted the restaurant industry as if we are responsible for the latest outbreak in the pandemic when the evidence proves otherwise,” Condie told “Fox & Friends.”
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, who was named in the lawsuit, said Monday that data on mask-less people at restaurants was, “crystal clear at every single level that you look at it.”
“I don’t think there’s any debate that, where people are in close proximity with other people not in their household, not wearing a mask and mingling for extended periods of time talking, singing, sharing — there’s an increased risk of transmission,” said Ferrer, according to Deadline.
The order to suspend all in-person dining at restaurants, bars, breweries, and wineries went into effect on Nov. 25 after the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of the ban on Nov. 24. It led to protests in recent days from people upset over the restrictions — and the impact it would have on businesses — as virus cases continue to rise.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 8,547 new cases of COVID-19 and 64 new deaths on Tuesday. At least 3,113 people in the county are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.
As of Tuesday evening, California – the nation’s most populous state – ranked third among U.S. states with more than 20,000 coronavirus deaths — trailing only New York and Texas.
L.A. County’s in-person dining restrictions are scheduled to remain in effect for three weeks.
Fox News’ Joshua Q. Nelson and Dom Calicchio contributed to this report