Wilton Manors Bar Owner Sues County, Governor For Restricting Business
This story has been updated as of 6:05 p.m., Thursday, July 16.
A bar owner in Wilton Manors is suing the city, Broward County and Gov. Ron DeSantis over not being allowed to open during the pandemic. He is also suing the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
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Brian Abraham opened LIT just three days before the shutdown happened in March. Right now in Broward County, bars and nightclubs have been ordered to remain closed. His attorneys filed a lawsuit earlier this week, alleging the restrictions on bars violate Abraham’s rights under the state Constitution.
Abraham argues bars are being kept closed arbitrarily while restaurants, hair and nail salons, and other businesses remain open throughout the state.
"I can go to Disney World, drink alcohol, order food, run around, that's perfectly fine — but you as a bar owner aren't a responsible enough human being to put a plan together to keep away the coronavirus," he said.
Read More: Florida Looks For 'Way Forward' On Bars
The lawsuit alleges, "at this time, the initial crisis has passed." However, counties across the state, especially in South Florida, have been trying to crack down on businesses that draw crowds as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.
Last week, Broward County officials placed tighter restrictions on restaurants with an emergency order to clarify harsher fines and hours to prevent customers from hanging around. They cannot sell food or alcohol on the premises between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
"I'm just trying to get things moving," Abraham said. "If I need to comply with doing 51 percent food sales, I would do 51 percent food sales. But do I find it to be completely and totally ridiculous they're shutting down bars because the governor, Broward County and Wilton Manors believes that if people sit six feet apart, but at a table, and drink alcohol — but don't eat food — there's a better chance of getting the coronavirus? So if I serve corndogs that's OK? Where's the scientific fact on this?"
Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry signed the county's executive order. At a COVID-19 workshop last Friday she emphasized enforcement to other county leaders:
"If we have establishments or members of the community that’s just not paying attention — we’re just kind of spinning our wheels a little bit," Henry said. "Before we find ourselves in a complete community shutdown again, we want to make every effort that we can to go after enforcement, and go after it hard."
For nightlife employees still out of work because of the closures, such as bartenders, there is a mix of frustration and fear.
"People don’t go to bars because they are thirsty, they go to bars to socialize — it's very difficult to socialize six feet apart," Wendi Walsh said. She is the principal officer for the South Florida chapter of the union, Unite Here, which represents casino and hospitality workers - including bartenders.
Walsh said if bartenders could rely on consistently receiving unemployment benefits, they would be less frustrated to get back to work. But that's not happening. Walsh said some of the union's members still haven't received unemployment checks after 15 to 16 weeks, or some are receiving their checks sporadically.
"Many bartenders make far more than they do make on the unemployment benefits, so of course workers want to go back to work, but they don’t want to go back to work in an unsafe environment," Walsh said.
In his lawsuit, Abraham seeks $5 million in damages and the ability for bars — specifically LIT — to reopen with COVID-19 safety guidelines.
You can read the lawsuit below: