The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Tuesday morning that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has the authority to impose fines for violations of the state's emergency public health orders limiting mass gatherings and requiring business closures.
"The Legislature has clearly given the governor that authority," Chief Justice Michael E. Vigil said Tuesday.
The court announced its ruling following about an hour of arguments and an hour of deliberations, resolving a legal challenge.
Several New Mexico businesses had filed a lawsuit against Lujan Grisham and two Cabinet secretaries, arguing the threat of civil penalties of up to $5,000 per day for violations of emergency health orders are not authorized by the New Mexico Public Health Emergency Response Act — except perhaps as sanctions against people who are court-ordered to quarantine or self-isolate.
The state Republican Party helped organize the complaint, initially filed in the 9th Judicial District in Curry County.
The plaintiffs included K-Bob's Steakhouse in Clovis, Frontier Auto Inc. and Body & Sol Fitness in Lovington, Monroe's Restaurants in Albuquerque, Kemp's Investments and Colfax Tavern & Diner in Colfax County, J.Jones Massage in Hobbs, the owners of the businesses, and several individuals.
Along with the governor, state Public Safety Secretary Mark Shea and Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel were named as defendants.
Vigil said justices were declining to issue a ruling on the second part of the lawsuit, which had asked the court to determine the plaintiffs are owed damages for lost revenues from the governor's business restrictions The suit said such damages are called for in the "just compensation" clause of Emergency Response Act.