COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Franklin County Judge denied a request by Columbus bar owners for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed alcohol sales in Ohio to resume after 10 p.m.
On Tuesday afternoon, a group of Columbus bar and restaurant owners sued the state seeking a temporary restraining order to stop enforcement of the state’s restriction against on-premise alcohol sales, which went into effect Friday afternoon.
Judge Kim Brown said Wednesday, shortly after noon, that the court was not persuaded the plaintiff’s case has a sufficient likelihood of success to warrant a temporary restraining order.
The decision followed a hearing Wednesday morning in which the state of Ohio made its first response to the lawsuit. The state argued that the bar and restaurant owners are selfishly pursing financial gain at the risk of Ohioans’ lives.
“The crisis is real. It is deadly. And, because of people who place their own financial gain above the lives of their brethren, it is getting worse,” the state argued in a court memo opposing the bar owner’s motion for a temporary restraining order that would allow alcohol sales to resume at night.
The judge's ruling is the latest development in the legal back-and-forth over alcohol sale cutoffs. The lawsuit was brought in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas by attorney Ed Hastie, who successfully represented the same group of business owners in a previous lawsuit that has temporarily stopped a July 27 move by Columbus City to close bars and restaurants at 10 p.m.
In a court hearing Wednesday morning, which was held by video conference, Hastie said the state’s argument is offensive.
“Defendant's argument that this is about money is offensive to the tens of thousands families that rely on [the service industry],” Hastie said. “At the end of the day, when your business closes, and your employees go back on unemployment, that is not just about money.”
The state submitted an affidavit from Eric Wolf, enforcement commander of the Ohio Investigative Unit, which investigates violations of Ohio’s liquor control laws and enforces the 10 p.m. alcohol sales restriction. He said the dynamics of patron activity in bars and restaurants change as it gets later in the evening.
“The earlier portion of the evening, until approximately 9:00, is when patrons typically seek food and, often an alcoholic beverage with their dinner,” he said. “At approximately 9:00, the patrons shift toward declining food consumption and increasing alcohol consumption, and as the evening goes on, increased socialization and mingling among patrons.”
The state argues that social distancing becomes less likely as intoxication increases and people become more social. Later in the evening, “friends begin to hook up with each other, often creating larger groups that enjoy socializing together into the late night,” Wolf said.
Hastie argued the rule is arbitrary. While he acknowledges that there are a few bars that are “bad actors” that may have allowed congregating in the evening, he said most bars and restaurants responsibly comply with social distancing requirements.
“We are asking for one thing. One thing. We are asking to be allowed to continually lawfully operate, and we are asking for the court to set aside an arbitrary, unreasonable, and discriminatory law that will allow people to keep working and will allow society to try to recover from the horrific financial and health implications of coronavirus.”
After Brown announced her decision, Hastie told the judge he would confer with his clients and stakeholders regarding how to proceed with the case.