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Bars Sue Stitt Over COVID Curfew Order, Granted Temporary Restraining Order From Enforcement

Youtube / Gov. Kevin Stitt
Gov. Kevin Stitt at a Nov. 16 press conference announcing new COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants.

UPDATE at 5:15 p.m. on Fri., Dec. 18: A judge granted plaintiffs a temporary restraining order in this case. This story has been updated to include that development and reaction from the governor and the ABLE Commission.

A group of bar owners filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kevin Stitt Thursday, saying his executive order that in-person service stop at 11:00 p.m. each night in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 is onerous, unlawful and outside the bounds of his authority.

"This administration needs to just cut the charade, do the honorable thing and just level with everybody," said attorney Frank Urbanic, representing six businesses from across the state in the suit filed in Oklahoma County District Court. (The petition, which has not yet been posted online to the state court system, was published in full by KOCO 5 News.)

"When the dust settles and if we're proven right, which I think we will [be], some of these businesses will have gone out of business because of a phony threat that they really didn't have to follow in the first place," Urbanic said in a phone interview Friday morning. "That's disgraceful, in my opinion."

Urbanic asserts the governor does not have the unilateral power to impose or enforce the order. He also argues the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement Commission (ABLE), named as a co-defendant in the suit, has issued citations to bar owners under a variety of different statutes and ordinances which he claims are invalid.

Urbanic does not believe the order, even if found to be legal and enforceable, would have an impact on the transmission of the coronavirus. 

"This is what's going to stop the spread of COVID? Give me a break," Urbanic said. 

Urbanic represented a different group of bar owners and employees in a November suit against Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt over Oklahoma City's enforcement of the 11 p.m. curfew.

The establishments named as plaintiffs in the suit against the governor are Redneck Yacht Club in Oklahoma City; The Friendly Tavern in Noble; Doug's Waterin' Hole in Poteau; Gold Spur Bar in Guymon; PJ's Pub and Grill in Tulsa; and Western Nights in Oklahoma City.

On Friday afternoon, Judge Susan Stallings granted a temporary restraining order from the order being enforced against the six plaintiffs until a further hearing on Dec. 30.

In a statement, Stitt said, "I am disappointed in today's ruling, because my first priority as governor is to protect the health and lives of all Oklahomans. Many other states have closed bars completely and banned indoor dining while my Executive Order maintains the right balance between protecting public health and keeping businesses open safely. We look forward to making our case at the hearing on Dec. 30.”

ABLE Commission General Counsel and Deputy Director Steven Barker said they would not enforce the order against all bars and restaurants.

"The plan going forward: Judge Stallings enjoined the ABLE Commission from enforcing the executive order on those six plaintiffs. Our stance until the court has made a final determination is going to be not to enforce that at all, simply because that wouldn't be fair to those that weren't plaintiffs, and we certainly don't want to enduce further litigation for the sake of further litigation," Barker said.

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