A court decision in favor of a northern Michigan restaurant could have dangerous consequences for confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, the state health department said in asking a judge to suspend the ruling or at least publicly clarify the impact.
The department said it fears the Jan. 13 opinion will cause confusion and resistance toward its ongoing orders statewide, especially a new requirement that nursing homes offer booster shots to residents.
Otsego County Judge Colin Hunter overturned a $5,000 fine against a Gaylord restaurant, Iron Pig Smokehouse, which had defied orders in 2020 to temporarily stop indoor dining as COVID-19 cases in Michigan were rising.
Hunter said a portion of a public health law used to make the order was unconstitutional. The decision is limited to his county in the northern Lower Peninsula, but the state believes the “general public” across Michigan will “attach more significance” to the judge’s remarks than they deserve.
“This court’s opinion … comes at a very perilous moment,” Assistant Attorney General Darrin Fowler said in a court filing Thursday. “The omicron variant has hit Michigan hard, taxing our hospitals and threatening the lives of our most vulnerable residents.”
Hunter exceeded his authority by hearing a dispute over a fine and stretching it to make a decision about the constitutionality of a state law, said Fowler, who added that an appeal was planned.
The judge declined to reconsider his opinion but said the parties could return to his court for additional arguments.
Hunter’s decision has been celebrated around Michigan by critics who have filed lawsuits over mask orders, quarantines and other coronavirus-related mandates and mostly lost.
“This case can also be used as a persuasive case anywhere in the state to basically say, ‘Hey judge, this judge in Otsego County made this ruling. We think you should do the same.’ … Every win like this is a feather in our hat!” Jayme McElvany, who has rallied against pandemic limits, said on Facebook.