A federal judge on Tuesday struck down Broward County’s curfew banning all alcohol sales and in-person dining from midnight to 5 a.m.
The ruling prompted immediate speculation from Key West business owners about potential impacts for Key West, where Mayor Teri Johnston on Dec. 4 announced a 10 p.m. curfew for New Year’s Eve and the ensuing holiday weekend in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus.
The Key West curfew will stop alcohol sales and require nonessential businesses to close at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. The Key West curfew also restricts all residents and visitors to their homes and hotels from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless they’re going to and from work or a religious service.
Judge Raag Singhal, of Florida’s Southern District, which also includes Monroe County, ruled in favor of Broward County bars and restaurants, and issued an injunction that prevents that county from enforcing its midnight restrictions.
The city of Key West is facing its own federal lawsuit that challenges its New Year curfew.
Key West resident Andrew Day filed suit on Monday, Dec. 21 that challenges the city’s 10 p.m. curfew.
Day’s lawsuit claims, “These restrictions will extinguish the constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. These rights are being taken away from the plaintiff for eight hours per day for three consecutive nights.”
Key West City Attorney Shawn Smith told Keys Weekly on Tuesday evening, “I’ve reviewed [Judge Singhal’s ruling], and that case differs substantially from our current challenge.”
Key West restaurant owner Bill Lay, who had previously lobbied for a compromise curfew of 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, told Keys Weekly on Tuesday evening, “It’s a shame that things had to come to this. Maybe now when people in our community try to balance and compromise, our local government might listen.”
Lay is not involved in Day’s lawsuit against the city of Key West and its officials.
Broward County ruling
The lawsuit against Broward County claimed the county’s midnight prohibition was superseded by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order that requires local governments to validate any restrictions placed on businesses for the sake of the public health, and to quantify the potential economic losses to those businesses.
Judge Sanghal’s order states: “…Plaintiffs allege they have suffered and will continue to suffer grievous economic injury in the form of lost profits and damage to goodwill as a result of the curfew, which is exacerbated because the Plaintiffs’ businesses were already under economic stress as a result of closures for over nine months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The curfew, they say, has had a disproportionate impact on restaurants and bars because other businesses, churches, government operations, and other institutions are not subject to the 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and have not been forced to close their doors during those hours…. The County argues, in essence, that because citizens cannot be trusted to behave properly, the County must restrict their behavior. But, it is not for the court to evaluate the wisdom of the County-imposed restrictions. …The County is well within its authority to enact restrictions for the public health…so long as the County quantifies the economic impact of each restriction… and explain[s] why each limitation or requirement is necessary for public health. While the County may very well be able to do so… this record does not satisfy the quantification and explanation mandate of [the governor’s order]. More specifically, the portion of [the Broward County emergency order] restricting food and alcoholic beverage service from the hours of midnight to 5 a.m. is speculative and arbitrary as presented, and does not address the economic impact/public health plain language of [the governor’s order.]”