Ashland restaurant owner continues to challenge county health department over shutdown decision in court

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ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) – The court battle continues between the Ashland County Health Department and a restaurant owner who says she was forced to temporarily shut down because employees did not wear a mask over the summer.

Mandy Close, the owner of Cattlemans Restaurant in Savannah and county health commissioner Heather Reffett appeared virtually Wednesday during a civil bench trial in Ashland County Common Pleas Court. At issue, the restaurants’ food license suspension over what the health department deemed a refusal to wear face masks and the Dine Safe Ohio order.

Close testified she was not present during a July 14 health department inspection and would not know if employees were wearing masks at the time. She later testified, “Whether I’m there or not, the cook is not going to be wearing a mask.”

The health commissioner said their department received two complaints about the restaurant in June and July and took issue with a sign posted on the restaurant’s front door.

“It triggered an inspection because the business owner put out on her front door a sign stating that the owner or server inside was not going to wear a mask,” testified Reffett. “… When you make a written statement saying you have no intention of protecting the public’s health that is an immediate danger, that’s the way I observed it.”

When prompted during the trial, Reffett read aloud a doctor’s note on behalf of Close which stated a mask should not touch Close’s nose or mouth due to medical complications. Reffett later stated a face shield could have been worn instead.

The health commissioner stated she did not issue a written warning indicating the restaurant’s license could be suspended if Close did not comply with certain terms because she is not required.

Although the restaurant’s license has since been reinstated, the legal process continues to proceed. According to the court calendar, the civil bench trial resumes next week.

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