The owner of three Orlando bars has gone to the Florida Supreme Court in a dispute about whether the bars should receive compensation because of government-ordered shutdowns early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Orlando Bar Group, LLC filed a notice this week that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case against the state and Orange County. The move came after a panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal rejected arguments that the shutdowns amounted to what is known as “inverse condemnation” and should lead to payments for damages.
The firm, which does business as The Basement bar, The Attic bar and The Treehouse bar, went to the appeals court last year after Orange County Circuit Judge John Jordan dismissed the case. The lawsuit initially also included bars from other areas of the state.
In the lawsuit, the bars argued that the COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 were arbitrary and amounted to an unconstitutional taking of property rights.
“The orders were arbitrarily and capriciously applied against bars as a class of business that were not allowed to be open for business, and the application of the stricter standards for the plaintiffs’ class of businesses was not rationally related to the purpose of preventing an infection from COVID-19,” the lawsuit said.
But the appeals-court panel rejected such arguments, citing, for example, an earlier case that said fireworks businesses were not entitled to compensation after the state in 1998 shut down fireworks sales because of wildfires.
“If the state can use its police power to temporarily prohibit the sale of fireworks to prevent wildfires during an exceptionally dry period in Florida, it stands to reason that the state can also use its police powers to temporarily prohibit or restrict the sale of alcohol in an effort to limit the spread of a then poorly understood, highly contagious and deadly virus,” the appeals court said in a ruling that was initially issued in April and revised in June.
As is common, the notice filed this week did not detail arguments that Orlando Bar Group will make at the Supreme Court. The notice was posted on the court’s website Thursday.
Closures of bars became a high-profile — and heavily debated — issue in 2020 as the state and local governments tried to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The lawsuit stemmed from a series of state and local orders that started in March 2020. In the early stages, bars were prevented from selling alcohol for onsite consumption, though a series of changes were made in the restrictions in the subsequent months. Gov. Ron DeSantis rescinded the restrictions in September 2020.
The case named as defendants DeSantis, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Orange County. Orlando Bar Group’s attorneys include former state Sen. David Simmons.