A group of small businesses in Southern California is suing state and local authorities, arguing that they should be allowed to open as long as they adhere to social distancing rules during the coronavirus outbreak.
Attorneys filed the federal lawsuit Friday against dozens of officials including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on behalf of seven local businesses, including a South El Monte restaurant and a mariachi band, a Burbank-based pet grooming company, a boat-rental service in Newport Beach, a film equipment manufacturer and a business that owns a number of Ruby’s Diner, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Charley’s Subs franchises across Southern California.
The shutdown orders forced the businesses to lay off a majority of their employees, the lawsuit said, alleging that they could have safely continued to operate within federal social distancing and health guidelines.
One of the plaintiffs, South El Monte restaurant Cielito Lindo, offered carry-out and delivery for a week but ultimately had to close as the businesses in the surrounding industrial area had been shut down, according to the lawsuit. The restaurant opened in 1986 and employed more than 50 people, most of them now laid off, the lawsuit said.
The South El Monte mariachi band, named as a plaintiff as Hernandez Productions, have had their shows canceled all over California and in the southwest, a representative told KTLA. All 35 employees of the company have since been out of work since the stay-at-home order took effect, according to the lawsuit.
Another plaintiff, Torrance-based Wildfire Lighting, manufactures equipment for the entertainment industry. The stay-at-home order deems it a nonessential business and led the company to so far lay off two of its five employees, court documents said.
“Because of the nature of Wildfire Lighting’s business, it could easily follow the CDC’s guidelines of social distancing without being forced to have entirely closed down its business,” the lawsuit read.
L.A.-based Geragos and Geragos and San Francisco-based Dhillon Law Group are representing the businesses.
A statement from the law firms’ representative called the shelter-in-place orders “unconstitutional.”
“Our country was built on the premise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and today in 2020 those freedoms are being stripped away from law-abiding citizens and businesses without rational thought or a rational basis,” attorney Mark Gerago stated.
On March 19, Newsom declared a statewide stay-at-home order that closed businesses deemed nonessential. It also banned restaurants from offering dine-in services, among other rules.
While federal, state and local governments have announced billions of dollars in financial loans intended for small businesses, many continue to struggle. Attorneys across the U.S. say many owners are considering filing for bankruptcy.
Newsom, like other governors across the U.S., has faced pressure to reopen the economy amid growing unemployment numbers. But as others begin to ease restrictions, Newsom remains steadfast.
He has repeatedly warned that lifting stay-at-home rules too soon will drive up the number of COVID-19 patients in the state, which has reported a slow but continuing increase in cases. At least 1,710 people have died of COVID-19 in California as of Sunday, according to the state.
Newsom said that as a former small business owner, he understood the hardship and economic impact of the statewide order. In the early days of the mandate, his office announced that small businesses may defer paying sales taxes. The state has also made millions of dollars in loans available in addition to those offered by the federal government.
Sandy Duvall, a local gym owner who is not involved in the lawsuit, said she has not yet seen any help materialize despite gyms being some of the first ones to shut down during the outbreak.
“We’re kind of in a loss here, just trying to hang on by a thread and not really knowing what the future is for us,” she said.