For most people, the period of COVID-19 restrictions – when businesses and schools were closed and people wore masks standing on dots 6 feet apart in the checkout line at the grocery store – are just strange memories of the not too distant past.
However, for a group of about a dozen bar owners in North Carolina, the aftermath of the COVID restrictions live on in a lawsuit they filed against Gov. Roy Cooper, which is slowly working its way through the courts.
The lawsuit, Howell v. Cooper, alleges that the constitutional rights of the bar owners were violated by Cooper when he ordered all bars in the state closed on March 17, 2020 and did not allow them to fully reopen until May 14, 2021.
In particular, the bar owners state in their lawsuit that their constitutional right to “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor” were violated by Cooper’s use of the Emergency Management Act to close their places of business and not allow them to fully reopen for over a year.
According to The Carolina Journal, in a 2-1 decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that Howell v. Cooper could move forward through the courts.
In that decision, North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge April Wood stated, “We conclude the Complaint sufficiently alleges state violations of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights because it coherently pleaded that the Governor’s orders violated their constitutional right to earn a living.”
The court ruled that the bar owners could seek monetary damages against the state for violating their constitutional right to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. It’s interesting that one of the arguments made by the state against the lawsuit moving forward is that the state “could suffer significant monetary claims” if the bar owners win their case.
The two Court of Appeals judges who found in favor of the bar owners are Republicans and the dissenting judge is a Democrat.
In the latest filings in the case, Cooper has requested that the North Carolina Supreme Court take up the lawsuit and the bar owners are opposing that request.
One portion of the lawsuit is currently before a three-judge panel. That trial court panel will determine whether the state Emergency Management Act is constitutional.