A Columbus bridal shop is suing the Ohio Department of Health
for its ordered closure of non-essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law — a nonprofit and nonpartisan firm — said that ODH Director Dr. Amy Acton's April 2 stay at home order "fails to provide owners of 'non-essential businesses' any opportunity for a hearing where the State must demonstrate that such businesses are indeed 'non-essential' and incapable of safe operation, even as many other businesses and operations not essential to survival have been exempted."
The law center is bringing the action on behalf of bridal shop Gilded Social, owned by Tanya Rutner Hartman, who says she was forced to choose between adhering to the order and facing "financial ruin" or being prosecuted for violating it.
The suit calls the order "impermissibly vague" and provides several reasons for why and how Gilded Social could operate safely and be considered essential — including citing Obergefell v. Hodges and saying "celebrating love and the traditions surrounding marriage is essential." The suit also says, "Weddings are a factor in returning Ohioans’ economy and society to normal life."
In the lawsuit, the 1851 Center says, "As a direct result of the Director’s unconstitutional practices, Plaintiffs and many others now face an imminent risk of criminal prosecution and extensive daily fines, or in the alternative, decimation of their businesses, livelihoods, and economic security, as well as continued irreparable harm to their rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
In a press release, the 1851 Center continues to outline violations to procedural due process including saying that while the state does have some latitude in making decisions when quelling a pandemic, they cannot deprive constitutional rights over an extended period of time without legislative action; they cannot deprive citizens of their livelihood, "even temporarily," without an immediate hearing to justify it; and due process is required even during emergencies so that citizens are not erroneously shut down or punished.
"The requirement of an immediate hearing where the state must prove its case is more than a technicality: because the state cannot justify its arbitrary closures, many Ohio businesses will be free to immediately re-open, even if simply on a limited basis,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Basic rights like this are overlooked when health administrators are empowered to serve unchecked as the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government all at once.”
Hartman is seeking costs, damages and expenses as well as a "preliminary and permanent injunction and temporary restraining order prohibiting Defendant and Defendant’s agents from enforcing the mandate that 'non-essential businesses must cease,'" among other requests.