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A superior court judge ruled March 3 against a group of restaurants and gyms that sought to reopen indoor operations at 25 percent capacity in violation of a countywide closure. File photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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Judge denies request from restaurants, gyms, to resume indoor operations

REGION – A San Diego Superior Court judge today denied a request for a preliminary injunction stemming from a lawsuit filed by a group of local restaurants and gyms seeking to resume indoor operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Medel heard attorney arguments Friday in the lawsuit, which was filed last year against state and county officials on behalf of Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop, Home & Away Encinitas, Fit Athletic Club and Bear Republic.

A proposal submitted by the businesses sought to operate indoors at 25% capacity, which would match the capacity limits imposed on retail businesses and other sectors in the purple tier.

Medel, who previously denied a temporary restraining order request in November in the same case, wrote in his ruling that though the economic consequences to businesses were substantial, those must be balanced against the state and county’s interest in stemming the spread of COVID-19.

“The role of the court for purposes of injunctive relief is to balance this very real impact against the impact that the defendants will likely suffer. The defendants here represent the state and the public,” Medel wrote. “As of the date of this hearing, the COVID-19 pandemic has now infected over 28.7 million Americans and over a half-million have lost their lives. While the infection rates are falling and vaccinations are increasing, these statistics are significant.”

The businesses alleged that restaurants and gyms accounted for a small percentage of overall COVID-19 cases, and yet those industries have been unduly penalized.

They also alleged that the restrictions placed upon them have driven members of the public to gather at private homes or other uncontrolled locations where proper precautions are not taken.

The state and county argued that restaurants and gyms can facilitate the virus’ spread because they bring people from different households together for extended periods of time, with diners having to remove their facemasks to eat, and gym-goers engaging in activities that typically involve heavy breathing.

In a separate lawsuit, a different San Diego judge approved a preliminary injunction request filed by two San Diego strip clubs seeking to resume indoor operations. Though no restaurants were part of that lawsuit, the judge’s ruling ended up encompassing all county restaurants. The ruling was quickly appealed by the state and county and an appeals court panel overturned that judge’s decision in January.