Judge rejects New Haven restaurant suit challenging Lamont's emergency powers

Photo of Nicholas Rondinone
Gov. Ned Lamont speaks at a news conference on the Bridgeport Boatworks property, in Bridgeport, Conn. April 5, 2021. Lamont joined other officials to announce a long-term lease agreement between Bridgeport Boatworks and the Hownblower Group, who run a wide variety of water cruises and ferry services.

Gov. Ned Lamont speaks at a news conference on the Bridgeport Boatworks property, in Bridgeport, Conn. April 5, 2021. Lamont joined other officials to announce a long-term lease agreement between Bridgeport Boatworks and the Hownblower Group, who run a wide variety of water cruises and ferry services.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

A federal judge on Thursday affirmed Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers used during the COVID-19 pandemic when he dismissed a lawsuit filed by New Haven restaurant owners who claimed the executive orders violated the constitution.

The suit, from the owners of the 50's Lounge in the Westville neighborhood, argued that Lamont’s executive orders violated the owners’ constitutional rights by limiting gathering sizes and preventing them from earning a living.

U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea wrote in his ruling Thursday that the owners had largely failed to show how the orders violated their rights.

“Our state’s constitution is unambiguous — the governor has broad authority during public health and civil preparedness emergencies to take steps that save lives. The federal court’s decision today affirms what we already know and leaves no doubt that the governor's actions during this pandemic have been fully lawful and justified,” Attorney General William Tong said in a statement.

The restaurant owners, Michael Amato and Joy Monsanto, argued in the lawsuit first filed on April 3, that Lamont’s executive order violated their right to assemble and “right to freely associate with their customers and their friends” protected by the First Amendment.

The suit had sought to have the executive orders declared unconstitutional, an injunction that would lift the order and compensatory and economic damages.

“The plaintiffs' complaint simply does not show how the executive orders impinged on their First Amendment rights — there are no allegations as to their attempts to assemble or to associate with anyone,” Shea wrote in the ruling.

In his ruling, Shea acknowledges that more than 7,800 people have already died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Shea wrote in the ruling that Lamont’s orders “are narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling government interests of slowing the spread of COVID19 and preventing the overwhelming of the health care system,” and they were issued relying on expertise from public health agencies.

The lawsuit also contended that Lamont’s orders deprived the owners of the right to earn a living.

In his order, Shea wrote that restaurants were allowed to sell food and beverages for off-sight consumption, and the orders have since been replaced with mandates that allow for restaurants to operate for in-person dining with social distancing and a curfew.

The suit from the owners of 50’s Lounge also brought claims against New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, but those were also dismissed by Shea.

The lawsuit was one of several that have challenged Lamont’s executive powers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. In most cases, judges have upheld Lamont’s authority to issue the orders meant to stop the spread of the virus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has touched thousands of Connecticut residents and has required immense personal sacrifices of all kinds, but nothing is more important right now than saving lives and protecting public health. We will get through this together if we wear our masks, continue to social distance and get vaccinated,” said Tong, whose office has represented the governor in the matters.