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Restaurant association files new lawsuit in dining dispute

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The food fight between Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration and the New Mexico Restaurant Association is getting even messier.

Attorneys for the restaurant association filed a new lawsuit in the Albuquerque-based 2nd Judicial District on Friday in an attempt to force the Lujan Grisham administration to turn over documents underpinning its decision to reimpose a ban on in-person restaurant dining.

In the lawsuit, the restaurant group’s attorneys claim the Department of Health has not supplied them with records requested under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

The agency requested more time to comply with the records request, according to court filings, and a 15-day deadline under state law has not yet been met.

The restaurant group, along with several restaurants around the state, filed a separate lawsuit last week seeking to block the Lujan Grisham administration from enforcing its reimposed ban on indoor dining at eateries and breweries.

A District Court judge in Carlsbad temporarily barred the Lujan Grisham administration from enforcing the ban on Monday, but the Supreme Court allowed it to be reimposed after the Governor’s Office filed an emergency petition later the same day.

Both sides have been ordered by the Supreme Court to file responses in the case next week.

In previous court fillings, the Governor’s Office has cited testing data to back up its decision to reimpose the ban on indoor dining amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Specifically, the governor’s legal staff has cited a sharp increase in the number of “rapid responses” launched statewide at restaurants – such interventions occur when an employee tests positive for the virus – after restaurants were allowed to reopen at limited capacity on June 1 through July 13, when they were once again ordered to close.

In addition, Human Services Secretary David Scrase said during a Thursday news briefing that indoor restaurant dining is inherently dangerous during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“People can’t wear masks when they eat, so it’s just a high-risk activity,” Scrase said.

Attorneys for the restaurant association have sought to depose Scrase as part of their court case, but Governor’s Office attorneys declined the request this week due to the Supreme Court’s order.

New Mexico restaurants and breweries can still offer outside patio dining at limited capacity under the revised public health order that expires July 30.

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