Bar, restaurant owners file lawsuit seeking to overturn 10 p.m. alcohol curfew

Columbus-area liquor-permit holders say Gov. DeWine, Ohio Liquor Control Board overstepped their authority

A group of 21 Columbus-area bars, restaurants and individuals filed a lawsuit Tuesday, Aug. 4, in Franklin County Common Pleas Court seeking to overturn the statewide 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales in bars and restaurants statewide.

The curfew, which took effect Friday, was ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine and approved by the Ohio Liquor Control Commission to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to help ease the coronavirus pandemic. Both DeWine and the liquor-control commission are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the new rule as well as a judge’s order to nullify the rule altogether.

Under state law, any lawsuits against the Ohio Liquor Commission must be filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, although decisions made in such cases generally have statewide impact.

“In our filing, we have asked the court to apply its decision to all liquor permit holders statewide,” Tom Jeffcott, one of two attorneys who filed the lawsuit, told the Dayton Daily News late Tuesday afternoon.

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The bar and restaurant owners say DeWine and the liquor-control commission overstepped their authority and violated the business owners’ constitutional rights when they approved the 10 p.m. curfew.

“To date, the state has not provided any reliable scientific data or evidence to establish why the existing safety guidelines that all (bar and restaurant owners) are currently following are effective at 9:59 p.m., but then suddenly become ineffective after 10 p.m.,” the lawsuit says. “The power afforded to governments to address public health and safety issues is not limitless. The rights secured by the Ohio Constitution do not disappear during a public-health crisis.”

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The curfew only serves to penalize and punish those bars and restaurants that are following safety guidelines, the lawsuit says.

When he announced the rule on Thursday, July 30, Gov. DeWine said bars, “by their nature, lend themselves to a revolving door of people in close contact, oftentimes indoors. ... Patrons either stay at one location, sometimes for hours, or bar-hop. Either way, they interact with many different people — especially the younger crowd.”

DeWine said, “We do not want to shut down Ohio bars and restaurants, but we do have to take some action. The businesses can stay open – but we believe stopping sales at 10 p.m. will help thin that crowd out and will help slow the spread.”

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The lawsuit says all of the bar and restaurant owners who joined the lawsuit “genuinely believe their businesses may cease to exist” if the curfew is allowed to stay in place, given the precarious position that the pandemic has forced upon bars and restaurants statewide.

The liquor-permit holders filed a separate request for a temporary restraining order, as well a permanent injunction, blocking the state from enforcing the curfew. The case has been assigned to Franklin County Judge Kim Brown, according to online court records. A hearing on the request for a temporary injunction is scheduled for Wednesday morning, Aug. 5.

According to thedispatch.com, the lawsuit filed Tuesday was brought by the same business owners who are challenging an ordinance approved by Columbus City Council on July 27 that requires bars and restaurants in the city to close by 10 p.m. In that case, a judge granted the business owners a 14-day temporary restraining order the following day.

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