The New Mexico Supreme Court Monday (July 20) blocked a restraining order from a state district judge which would have reversed Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's renewed ban on indoor dining.
The New Mexico Restaurant Association, along with Red River Brewing and several other businesses, filed a motion in court challenging the governor's recent order to reclose indoor dining at restaurants due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Raymond Romero approved a temporary stay that would have prevented the state from enforcing the limitations on indoor dining at least until a hearing scheduled for July 30 in the case.
But the state filed a motion to block Romero's action with the New Mexico Supreme Court.
"I am grateful for the court's quick action," said Lujan Grisham in a statement. "I appreciate the high court's recognition of the importance of consistent application and enforcement and the opportunity to bolster our case that high-contact indoor environments where face coverings cannot be worn present an untenable risk given the incredible danger of COVID-19 at the moment."
The temporary order granted by Romero, a judge in Carlsbad, also came on Monday, raising brief hopes among restaurant and brewery owners who were dismayed when the governor shut down indoor dining again to slow a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases.
"It gives people in New Mexico a choice again that was taken away from them for arbitrary and capricious reasons," said Red River Brewing co-owner Michael Calhoun about Romero's initial order.
Calhoun said the restaurant would have opened for indoor seating July 21 and would be adhering to strict sanitation protocols to ensure the safety of guests and employees.
The New Mexico Supreme Court quickly acted on an emergency petition filed by Lujan Grisham's office asking the court to overturn the judge's order.
The Supreme Court's decision to overturn the order came just hours after Judge Romero's order was complete and restaurants began planning for indoor openings.
"The governor is incredibly grateful to the business owners who are complying and going above and beyond to protect public health," said Trip Stelnicki, communications director for the governor. "There are many restaurant owners in Taos who have already worked so hard to remain in compliance and keep people safe."
The current ban on indoor dining remains. Restaurants are able to serve customers on the patio, along with takeout and to-go orders.
"Sustained indoor contact in an environment where face coverings cannot be worn, such as at restaurants, is unsafe," Stelnicki said in an email. "A bad ruling by a judge doesn't change that."
Restaurants were allowed to operate at half of their normal indoor capacity based on the governor's June 30 public health order. Then on July 9, the governor reversed that order to again ban indoor dining due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.
The New Mexico Restaurant Association launched a public campaign to get the governor to change her stance before helping a few restaurants file the complaint. "Restaurants and breweries are once again being punished for the uptick in COVID-19 cases despite the fact that the governor said that they are not the source of infection, and have been complying with her orders," said the association on its website.
Calhoun said, "We always felt that the July 13 public health order wasn't based on solid evidentiary basis. We welcome some open dialogue with the governor's office."
For the time being, the July 13 order prohibiting indoor sit-down service will stand, but both parties involved in the initial lawsuit must prepare a response to the casewithin the week.
"New Mexico business operators should continue to abide by the state's guidelines and restrictions; anything less is to risk the health and safety of employees, customers, their communities and indeed our entire state," Stelnicki said.
Along with the Restaurant Association and Red River Brewing Company, Outlaw Meats in Fort Sumner, K-Bobs and the Trinity Hotel in Carlsbad are listed as plaintiffs in the case.
The Trinity Hotel was named by the New Mexico Environment Department in a July 17 press release for their noncompliance with the state's order. The department suspended the food service permit at the restaurant earlier in the week and said the restaurant continues to operate despite the suspension.