Restaurateur in Viral Video Sues California Over Outdoor Dining Ban

Screenshot from a viral video posted by Los Angeles County restaurant Pineapple Grill and Saloon. The video shows the restaurant’s outdoor dining area, which was closed by state health orders due to rising coronavirus numbers, next to an outdoor dining area prepared for a Hollywood film production.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A restaurant owner whose viral video showed a film production’s dining area operating next to the patio she was forced to close sued California officials in federal court Sunday aiming to overturn the outdoor dining ban part of state orders meant to curb Covid-19 transmission.

Like many restaurants in Los Angeles County, Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill in Sherman Oaks modified dining operations multiple times this year to comply with public health guidelines.

State officials have forced restaurants and other dining establishments to close entirely at times when Covid-19 was widespread. Restaurants in parts of the state may have been allowed to partially reopen later only to then be limited again to takeout or delivery when their regional hospital capacity triggered new restrictions.

Such was the case when Governor Gavin Newsom issued a regional stay-at-home order this month, putting LA County restaurants under tighter restrictions including a total ban on outdoor dining.

Shortly after Newsom’s order was issued, Angela Marsden, principal owner of Pineapple Hill, filmed herself decrying the juxtaposition of her shuttered dining patio next to a functioning NBC Universal production’s outdoor dining area. Her video expressing frustration with state officials went viral and led to tens of thousands of dollars in donations to the restaurant.

Pineapple Hill and owners Calm Ventures say in their federal lawsuit the outdoor dining ban should be overturned because it fails to show how it stems viral spread.

“While ‘essential’ businesses continue to operate, and indeed, turn a profit (if not historical profits) during this time of crisis, plaintiff’s “non-essential” restaurant business that was forced to evolve into an outdoor dining restaurant during this pandemic, and now cannot even operate in outdoor form, has suffered immensely and continues to suffer while other non-essential businesses have been allowed to open,” the restaurateurs say in their complaint.

Pineapple Hill’s outdoor dining should resume because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said risk of viral spread can be mitigated by separating tables and because very few Covid-19 infections have resulted from outdoor dining, the plaintiffs say.

LA County health officials have said in court proceedings the risk of Covid-19 transmission is elevated when maskless people sit across from each other at a table, especially when members of different households mix while dining.

The lawsuit filed in the Central District of California also claims Newsom has doled out special exemptions to health orders for the film production industry.

Newsom faced criticism recently after being photographed dining indoors at the famed Napa Valley eatery French Laundry with a crowd of people including prominent lobbyists from California’s medical industry. At the time, only outdoor dining was allowed under the previous iteration of the Covid-19 health orders.

A spokesperson for Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and acting State Public Health Officer Erica S. Pan are also named defendants.

The plaintiffs are represented by Mark Geragos in Los Angeles and Harmeet Dhillon in San Francisco.

The state’s stay-at-home order for Southern California will be lifted if its regional ICU capacity remains at 15% or above for four weeks. The region’s current ICU capacity is 0%, according to state health data.

LA County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant recently overturned the county’s ban on restaurants serving guests outdoors, saying the Nov. 25 order was arbitrary, failed to consider its economic impact and was backed by weak scientific evidence. Chalfant’s ruling doesn’t supersede the state’s regional stay-at-home order, meaning an outdoor dining ban is still in effect in LA County.

The Second Appellate District, however, stayed his ruling on Dec. 18 and ordered the parties to show why it shouldn’t be struck down. Preliminary replies are due Jan. 4.

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