Judge rebuffs Indy bar owners’ lawsuit over COVID rules

Numerous bar owners and nightclubs took a hit in their attempts to sue the city of Indianapolis and others over pandemic-related restrictions that they allege hurt their businesses when a district court judge ruled for the city on Wednesday.

In September, numerous Marion County bars and nightclubs sued Indianapolis, Mayor Joe Hogsett, the Marion County Public Health Department and its director, Dr. Virginia Caine. The bar owners alleged they “have lost significant, irreplaceable revenue, laid off employees, have incurred significant debt” and are in “danger of permanent closure” due to public health orders issued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bar owners’ complaint was aimed at Marion County’s pandemic public health orders, which included tougher restrictions on bars and nightclubs in Marion County than those in the rest of the state. The complaint was filed by the owners of Tiki Bob’s Cantina, Invy Nightclub, Coaches Tavern, Courtside Convenience, Joe’s Grill Castleton, The Whistle Stop Inn, That Place Bar & Grill, Taps and Dolls, After 6 Lounge, Jokers Comedy Club, 247 Sky Bar, Whiskey Business Southport and Whiskey Business Lawrence, Average Joe Sport’s Pub, Rock Lobster, Mineshaft Saloon, Basey’s Downtown, The Red Room, Mickie’s Pub and Sports Page Lounge.

The owners argued that the restrictions, which impacted capacity limits, bar seating, treatment of adults-only establishments, live entertainment and dancing, and hours of business, violated their constitutional rights.

But Chief Judge Jane. E Magnus Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled in favor of the city defendants, granting their motion for judgment on the pleadings and finding that the bar owners failed to plausibly allege a claim against the city.

“Simply put, Plaintiffs’ de minimis conclusory allegations about the City Defendants — that they somehow worked in ‘conjunction with’ the MCPHD — do not tell ‘a story that holds together,’ to meet the pleading standard,” Magnus Stinson wrote in a Jan. 6 decision. “Instead, the allegations are nothing more than conclusions unsupported by factual allegations, and such conclusions are properly excised when evaluating whether the Complaint alleges a plausible entitlement to relief.”

Additionally, the district judge noted that while lacking factual allegations, the bar owners also failed to explain how the city defendants could be liable for actions that the plaintiffs both concede and allege were taken by Dr. Caine.

“Furthermore, Plaintiffs’ contention that they are also complaining about the City Defendants’ enforcement of the Public Health Orders, is belied by the absence of any allegations about the City Defendants’ enforcement of the orders in their Complaint,” the district court wrote.

“Having concluded that dismissal of the claims against the City Defendants is warranted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), the Court declines to address the remaining arguments raised by the City Defendants in support of dismissal, including their standing arguments under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1).”

The case is Bar Indy LLC et. al. v. City of Indianapolis et. al., 1:20-cv-02482.

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