Jul. 23—An Ashland County judge has ruled that a Savannah restaurant can reopen after it was shut down last week by the Ashland County Health Department because employees were not wearing face masks.
Ashland County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Forsthoefel on Thursday granted Cattlemans Restaurant’s request for a temporary restraining order on the basis that its food license was revoked without due process. The ruling means the restaurant can reopen Saturday. Forsthoefel’s order will apply for 14 days and the court will schedule a hearing on or before July 31 to settle the matter with all parties.
Forsthoefel listed several reasons for his decision in the judgment entry, including that the potential economic loss for Cattlemans Restaurant is significant and “could result in the complete financial ruin” of the restaurant owner and “permanent closure of their business.”
Also Thursday, Ashland County Prosecutor Christopher Tunnell recused his office from defending the health department because he believes the department’s actions are indefensible.
“This is an unusual position for a prosecutor to take, but these are unusual times and unusual action taken by the Board of Health against a private entity,” Tunnell said in a news release Thursday. “Opinions will no doubt differ from my own so I am confident that the Board will find representation by an attorney who believes he or she does not have an ethical conflict to defending this lawsuit. I will not be that attorney.”
The Ashland County Commissioners voted Thursday morning to allow the health department to seek other counsel.
The county health department suspended Cattleman Restaurant’s license last week because health officials said the employees were not wearing face masks, thus violating the Dine Safe Ohio order.
The restaurant, with aid from the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, filed a motion in Ashland County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday asking for its food service license to be reinstated immediately. The motion was filed against the health department and Ashland County Health Commissioner Heather Reffett.
Reffett did not return requests for comment on Wednesday or Thursday. A statement from the Ashland County Health Department released Wednesday said the department “responded to three citizen complaints regarding this restaurant and has been working with Ms. Close since June.”
Maurice Thompson, the 1851 Center executive director and the attorney representing Cattlemans Restaurant, directed questions to a statement the center released Wednesday.
“The Ohio Constitution prevents administrative agencies from imagining new policies for suspending licenses and shutting down businesses,” Thompson said in the news release. “The state’s mask requirements remain largely symbolic and unenforceable.”
Mandy Close, Cattlemans Restaurant’s owner, did not return a request for comment Thursday. Close told Fox 8 Cleveland, “I am so thankful. I just want to be able to earn a living.” Close also told Fox 8 that she was still considering whether employees will wear masks when they reopen.
Cattlemans Restaurant is not the first restaurant to be reprimanded for noncompliance with the Ohio Department of Health’s orders related to COVID-19.
Reffett told the T-G last week one other restaurant in Ashland County had its food license suspended due to noncompliance with COVID-19 rules from the state. The department worked with the business to comply and its license was reinstated, she said.
A diner in Cambridge made headlines in May for opening to sit-down dining in violation of orders issued by the Ohio Department of Health. After the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law got involved, charges against the owners of the National Road Diner were dropped in June at the request of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
The Ohio Revised Code states that it is illegal to violate any order issued by the Director of the Ohio Department of Health. In the Cambridge diner case, Yost noted that the Ohio legislature provided for two separate mechanisms to enforce an emergency health order — a suit for injunctive relief or a second-degree misdemeanor charge.