Following churches in Texas and California, two churches in Minnesota, along with small business leaders, have sued Gov. Tim Walz, alleging his executive orders to shut down the state violate the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC), a Minnesota-based public interest law firm, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
This lawsuit poses different questions from a separate previously filed suit by the Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition in the state appeals court.
The plaintiffs in this case include Northland Baptist Church of St. Paul and Pastor John Bruski, and Living Word Christian Center, who note that while they have been prohibited from holding in-person religious services and indoor or outdoor religious gatherings, similar types of secular gatherings have been allowed under the governor’s executive orders.
On March 13, 2020, Governor Tim Walz declared a “peacetime emergency” in Minnesota after 14 confirmed cases of the coronavirus were reported in the state. As of May 5, 2020, Governor Walz has since issued 51 “emergency executive orders,” totally shutting down some businesses, all schools, and all places of worship across Minnesota—while allowing essential businesses to remain open. The consequences of the orders “have been devastating for the Plaintiffs, other Minnesota businesses, and places of worship,” the complaint states. Since mid-March more than 500,000 Minnesotans applied for unemployment “since Governor Walz began selectively shutting down Minnesota’s economy,” the order notes.
The economic consequences are farther reaching as businesses have been forced to carry rent obligations, loan payments, and tax obligations without relief and without income.
One small business owner and plaintiff, Aaron Kessler, owner and operator of Glow In One Mini Golf L.L.C. in Blaine, argues that while his business has been prohibited from operating a mini-golf business, golf courses have been allowed to operate in the state under executive orders.
Another plaintiff, Larry Evenson, owner and operator of Myron’s Cards and Gifts, Inc. (with locations in Bloomington, Coon Rapids, Roseville, Blaine and Mankato) argues that his five stores have been required to shut down while at the same time stores like Target, Walgreens and CVS that also sell greeting cards and gifts have been allowed to stay open under the executive orders.
Plaintiffs Andrew Hulse and Gay Bunch-Hulse of 18|8 Fine Men’s Salons in Maple Grove and Wayzata, argue they have been prohibited from operating their state-licensed and infection control trained hair salons while at the same time liquor stores and pet groomers have been allowed to stay open under the executive orders.
“Governor Walz’ scheme of selecting economic winners and losers by wholly shutting down some businesses while allowing others to remain open violates the Plaintiff businesses’ 14th Amendment due process and equal protection rights,” Doug Seaton, Esq., President of the Upper Midwest Law Center, said in a statement. “Governor Walz’ actions also constitute a taking under the Fifth Amendment, and his prohibition on worshippers gathering violates churches’ and individuals’ First Amendment rights. The Constitution requires that the Governor respect the individual rights of all citizens at all times, narrowly tailor any restrictions, and apply the same rules to all. It is clear that his continuing lockdown executive orders fail these constitutional requirements.
The suit seeks a temporary restraining order from the U.S. District Court, asks the court to declare Governor Walz’s executive orders unconstitutional and enjoin him, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and the county attorneys charged with enforcement of the executive orders from enforcing them. It also seeks money damages from Governor Walz for the plaintiffs’ economic losses due to the executive orders.
James Dickey, Esq., lead trial counsel at UMLC, said they were prepared to take the case “to the Eighth Circuit and Supreme Court if needed.”
The Upper Midwest Law Center, a non-profit, public interest law firm, was founded in 2019 to protect the individual rights of citizens from government overreach, special interest agendas and public union corruption and abuses.
Governor Walz threatened criminal penalties of up to $25,000 for individuals and businesses who fail to comply with the orders, even though he does not have the statutory authority to impose penalties on businesses or places of worship. Such fines have never been applied to alleged violations of Chapter 12 under Minnesota Statutes section 8.31 in the history of the state.