Wedding venues fight state over pandemic restrictions
SAUGERTIES — Lawyers who have been battling the Cuomo administration over whether restaurants and other venues can host large weddings have filed a federal class action lawsuit on the issue.
And while the fight began in western New York’s Erie County, one of the initial plaintiffs in the class action suit is in Saugerties.
The Cuomo administration, according to the suit, has caused an “unprecedented interruption of virtually every aspect of the social, political, religious and economic life of New York State’s over 19 million residents,” through its pandemic protection orders, which the plaintiffs say are arbitrary.
The suit also contends that the state has “carved out numerous exceptions in an arbitrary and capricious manner according to their own political preferences,” when it comes to the pandemic lockdown.
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19 is still with us and the restrictions will persist despite the lawsuit.
“I’ve lost track of the frivolous lawsuits filed against us during this pandemic, but this one also happens to be dangerous,” he said in an email.
“Just last week 120 cases and several clusters were linked to one large wedding in Maine; now is not the time to pretend like this public health crisis is over,” he said.
The class action suit, filed by the Rupp, Baase, Pfalzgraf, Cunningham law firm, comes after they represented a western New York couple, Jenna DiMartile and Justin Crawford, who wanted an injunction against the governor’s ban on weddings of more than 50 people for an Aug. 7 wedding.
The injunction was granted and hours later the couple held a reception with about 115 people at an Erie County golf course restaurant.
Northern District Court Judge Glenn Suddaby at the time concluded that the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause meant that weddings should be treated the same as other events, such as school graduations, where more than 50 people were in attendance.
Later in the month, however, a federal Second Circuit appellate judge, Denny Chin, ruled that the governor’s ban could stay in place until a full three-judge appeals panel can hear arguments in the case.
That put on hold a 175-person wedding planned by another couple, Pamella Giglia and Joe Durolek, who were also plaintiffs in the original suit.
As they argued earlier, the plaintiffs in the class action suit noted that large restaurants with up to 400 seats can operate at half capacity, which is more than 50 people.
They also pointed out that gyms, museums, and school graduations have allowed more than 50 people to gather.
“This is allowed despite the mingling that takes place at gyms and museums, or the sporadic enthusiasm and exuberance expressed by bowlers, graduates, and gym-users,” the complaint states.
Additionally, the plaintiffs pointed out that the state hadn’t moved to halt large protest gatherings after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier in the year.
“These protests have been permitted across every major city in the State of New York and many smaller towns and villages since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020,” it noted.
“Favored businesses, entities, and activities, as well as favored mass demonstrations such as those over the death of George Floyd, are exempt from the challenged gathering limits, while Defendants irrationally and capriciously continue to forbid weddings from taking place under the same rules in effect for restaurant dining,” read the complaint.
When Suddaby’s initial decision came out, operators of wedding venues across the state were wondering if this opened the door for them to proceed with events that had been postponed due to the pandemic.
The class action suit names as plaintiffs Bill & Ted’s Riviera in Massapequa, and Partition Street Project also known as Diamond Mills Hotel in Saugerties, as well as “all restaurant, banquet, catering, and dining facilities in New York State with a maximum occupancy greater than 100 that follow the ‘Interim Guidance for Food Services During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.’ “
They say there are more than 1,000 in the state.
The Maine wedding referenced by Azzopardi was an Aug. 7 event in rural Millinocket, Maine, a state that has a 50-person cap on indoor gatherings.
Sixty two people were at the event, but later in the month, health officials concluded that more than 120 people had become infected with COVID-19, including some who had “tertiary” contact stemming from the wedding. That means they likely caught the virus from a person who had gotten it from someone at the Millinocket event.