Macomb County businesses sue state officials for damages over closures

By: Brian Louwers | Metro | Published February 19, 2021 | Updated February 22, 2021 3:45pm

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“We have a simple lawsuit. You want to take our businesses? You want to ruin our property values? Pay us. Pay us a fair amount in compensation. Maybe when this is all over, we’ll be able to recover and save these restaurants and all the jobs they supply.”

Albert Addis , attorney representing the Macomb County Restaurant, Bar and Banquet Association

MACOMB COUNTY — Samuel Backos said his restaurant, Ernie’s, has been “devastated” by state-ordered closures officials said were put in place to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said local restaurant, bar and banquet properties have been left “virtually worthless” and that their employees have suffered through “a very depressing time.”

Backos and other owners believe they have a right to be compensated after their businesses were adversely affected by state regulations that closed their doors and hurt contractual relationships with the companies that serve them.

Their claims were leveled in a lawsuit filed in Macomb County Circuit Court on Feb. 8 by the newly formed Macomb County Restaurant, Bar and Banquet Association. The filing seeks a jury trial and damages, and names Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel and Michigan Liquor Control Commission Chair Pat Gagliardi as defendants.      

Members of the MCRBBA and their legal counsel addressed the lawsuit at a press conference held at Ernie’s in Clinton Township on Feb. 19.

“We filed this lawsuit on a simple legal premise that we think is very strong, and one that has not been decided by any court yet,” said attorney Albert Addis, of the Michigan Justice law firm in Mount Clemens, now representing the MCRBBA. “That premise is that the Michigan Constitution does not allow government to take away people’s property and businesses without just compensation.”

“There’s no doubt that no industry has been injured or impacted as bad as the restaurant, bar and banquet industry,” Addis said. “It’s not even close in this state.”

The lawsuit alleges that the named state officials violated the “Takings Clause” of the Michigan Constitution, which Addis said requires that citizens be justly compensated when a regulation or series of regulations substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of property. The lawsuit further claims that the defendants worked together to unfairly regulate restaurants, bars and banquet centers in Macomb County and that the regulations equated to an unconstitutional taking of businesses and properties.

“It’s been a very depressing time, to see our life’s work, in my case 44 years, pretty much starting to go up in smoke,” Backos said.

He said about half of the restaurant’s 75 employees had been furloughed.

“It’s been the worst thing we’ve ever experienced,” Backos said.

Addis said while some restaurants fared better than others with outdoor dining, some pointed to a drop in business of 75% to 85%.

“We have a simple lawsuit. You want to take our businesses? You want to ruin our property values? Pay us. Pay us a fair amount in compensation,” Addis said. “Maybe when this is all over, we’ll be able to recover and save these restaurants and all the jobs they supply.”

He said his office would seek discovery in the case to determine if evidence shows the closures had any effect on the spread of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the governor’s press office said they do not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

The case was assigned to Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Michael Servitto. No hearing dates had been set at press time on Feb. 19.

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