Ruling allows Erie County restaurants to reopen for indoor dining, Monroe County not as clear

Charles Molineaux
Updated: January 13, 2021 11:08 PM
Created: January 13, 2021 06:29 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester area restaurateurs and advocates are hoping a new court ruling is a breakthrough to get businesses in orange zones out of coronavirus lockdown.

Wednesday a state judge in Buffalo ruled that orange zones restaurants must be allowed to reopen for indoor dining.

“We can do this. We can do this safely. It’s been proven,” declared Donald Swartz, the owner of Veneto restaurant in Rochester, adding that the ruling is a breakthrough for all orange zone restaurants crippled by COVID-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, a state judge in Buffalo issued a preliminary injunction ordering that Erie County restaurants in orange zones be allowed to reopen for indoor dining.

Veneto was one of two Rochester area establishments named in a lawsuit that targeted Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state and the Erie County Department of Health.

“It’s a huge victory, both for us, for our staff, for our employees, and, as far as I’m concerned we’re taking a stance,” Swartz said. 

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 90 Buffalo area restaurants and the injunction clearly applies to them.

It’s not clear that it applies to Veneto, and the judge’s decision does specifically exclude another local restaurant Robbie's in Greece, specifically because it’s not in Erie County and the Monroe County health department isn’t named in the suit.  

“There will be some further conversations, skirmishing, whatever it takes to get that part better understood,” said Buffalo Attorney Corey Hogan, who brought the lawsuit. 

The lawyers for the restaurants say they’ll work on making sure other restaurants, including in the Rochester area are covered, which could take weeks. But they’re also hoping the verdict could get governor Cuomo’s attention.

“But it also might be something that could happen overnight,” Hogan said, “if the governor took a look at things and said I’m going to remove those restrictions. People aren’t asking for all that much."

The Rochester chapter of the state restaurant association says the verdict could well open the floodgates for businesses willing to fight. 

“Definitely I think you’re going to see a slew of lawsuits coming in from all over the communities that are in the same position, especially now that you’ve seen a judge approve it,” said Kelly Metras, president, of the Rochester chapter of the New York Restaurant Association.

The injunction is only temporary, and Hogan planned to go back to court to start arguments to make it permanent on Jan. 19. Unless… Gov. Cuomo were moved to lift the orange zone restrictions for all restaurants in the state.

“If he remains as stubborn as he apparently has been up to this point, without good reason, then we would have no choice but to proceed through the courts,” Hogan said.

Read the full decision below:

Orange zone restaurants lawsuit injunction by News10NBC on Scribd

Monroe County Legislature Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew released the following statement on the issue:

"The preliminary injunction issued in the lawsuit against Governor Cuomo and New York State allowing for certain Orange Zone restaurants to re-open to indoor dining is a welcomed step. The Orange Zone policy, as the ruling states, has no 'rational basis.' While these select restaurants will be rightly allowed to re-open, hundreds more will remain shuttered. The Orange Zone restrictions and arbitrary zones implemented by Governor Cuomo must be revised immediately and today's ruling further proves this point."


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