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Morgantown bar owners file lawsuit claim closure orders violate their rights

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A dozen Morgantown bar and club owners say their constitutional rights have been violated by Gov. Jim Justice’s executive orders that have forced their closures because of COVID-19.

Whisper Night Club & Lounge, Fat Daddy’s, Almost Heaven Bar & Grill, Baby Squirrels, Big Times, Caribba and Dockside Grill, Joe Mama’s, Extensive Enterprises, Mountain Mamas Hot Spot, Mountain Mamas Tavern, SAR Tech LLC, SDHC LLC, The Annex and 4th & Goal are all listed as plaintiffs in in the lawsuit that’s been filed in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg.

MORE Read lawsuit here

The suit alleges the series of executive orders dating back to March have violated their state and federal constitutional rights by limiting their ability to operate without due process.

Beginning in March, the governor issued a series of orders that closed casinos to the public and restricted restaurants to carryout options only. By March 24, executive orders closed all non-essential businesses to the public.

On July 13, the governor issued issued a 10-day closure order for Monongalia County bars after the number of COVID-19 cases in the county increased. The order was extended by Gov. Justice three times until the bars were allowed to reopen on Aug. 31.

The closure was reinstated indefinitely by Justice on Sept. 2 after pictures of large crowds of primarily WVU students waiting in line at bars with few face coverings and little social distancing.

The suit argues the plaintiffs were robbed of due process because they had no opportunity to contest the “stay at home” or crowd size limit orders. The suit also says crowd size limits were established without consideration of whether the gatherings were inside, outside or the square foot capacity of the businesses. The plaintiffs allege their sector of business was disproportionately effected by the series of executive orders.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims the executive orders violated Section IV of the Constitution of the United States and the separation of powers provision in the West Virginia Constitution. Section IV of the U.S. Constitution guarantees protection against “invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened).”

The lawsuit also names Frederic Wooten, West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration commissioner and Morgantown interim city manager, Emily Muzzarelli as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges when the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration began enforcing the orders the bar owners call unconstitutional and unenforceable, they further violated the rights of the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleges the City of Morgantown joined the governor and commissioner of the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration in unconstitutional activity by passing several emergency ordinances.

Wheeling-based attorney, Martin Sheehan is seeking unspecified damages and attorney fees from each defendant for what the plaintiffs say is “taking without just compensation.”

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