Wedding venues lose suit to ease restrictions
SAUGERTIES — A federal court judge has ruled against quashing government COVID-19-related restrictions on wedding venues.
U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. has ruled against a class-action lawsuit filed by, among others, the Diamond Mills Hotel in Saugerties against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. The lawsuit sought to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on wedding venues.
Saratoga Springs-based attorney Michael Brandi, who represented the wedding venues, said this week he was disappointed in the ruling. He said that an appeal may be launched.
Scullin outlined his reasons for denying the venues’ request in a 20-page decision offered up on Oct. 13.
The suit, filed Aug. 28 in federal court in Albany, had asked for the rule that caps wedding reception attendance in New York state at 50 people to be vacated.
Partition Street Project Limited Liability Corp. the owner of Diamond Mills, is listed as one of two lead plaintiffs, with Bill & Ted’s Riviera Inc. on Long Island.
“Our goal here is to ensure equal treatment under the law, as guaranteed by the Constitution, to the class members,” Brandi said in a statement issued at the time of the filing. “When the state says that you can seat over 50 people in a given restaurant for restaurant dining but are limited to 50 people in that very same venue when the dining is associated with a wedding, that is blatantly unequal treatment.”
“Among the powers reserved to the States under the Tenth Amendment is the state’s police power, which includes the power and authority reasonably necessary to guard and protect public health and public safety, including protecting communities ‘against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” Sullin wrote.
“Recognizing the rapidly-changing landscape in which we find ourselves as a result of the current health crisis, Chief Justice (John) Roberts recently explained that the decision as to when to lift restrictions on particular social activities during a pandemic such as we face with COVID-19 is ever-changing and subject to reasonable disagreement.”
Still, Scullin said, the law is clear.
“However, our Constitution entrusts those decisions which affect the health and safety of citizens to state officials who are politically accountable to those who elected them, particularly when those decisions are undertaken in situations that are fraught with medical and scientific uncertainty.”
Scullin added that “unless those officials exceed these broad limits, the federal courts, which do not have the background, competence or expertise to gauge public health and are not accountable to the people, should not second guess their decisions.”
Scullin wrote that he did not find the wedding venue restrictions unfair.
“Although defendants’ arguments appear at first blush to suggest a discriminatory policy, a closer analysis of the rational basis for the difference in treatment suggests otherwise,” the judge wrote. “As New York’s Commissioner of Health points out, there are rational arguments from which one can conclude that sufficient differences exist between a venue that hosts the general public for dining and one that hosts a special social gathering such as a wedding to support the application of different restrictions.”
The judge referred to an opinion offered up by State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker who, in a statement to news website Gothamist, said that guests at wedding receptions tend to mingle for hours while restaurant patrons typically are in small parties that do not interact with others and don’t stay long after they’re done eating.
“One hallmark of a superspreader event is its size,” Zucker said. “As the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) stated in June 12, 2020, guidance, the more people with whom an individual interacts at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading. As a group’s size increases, so does the risk of transmitting the virus to a wider cluster.”