I-TEAM: Ashland restaurant owner takes legal action after being shut down for not wearing masks

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ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) – A restaurant owner is now asking a judge to intervene after she says the Ashland County Board of Health suspended her food license for failing to wear masks.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed a motion in Ashland County Common Pleas Court Wednesday asking the judge to grant Cattleman’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

“This matter turns neither on whether any particular pandemic policy is wise, nor on the magnitude of the threat posed by any particular pandemic,” the motion states. “Rather, this matter concerns whether local health authorities may twist Ohio law to impose the proverbial death penalty on a local business in a never-before-attempted and flagrantly unlawful manner.  Through a July 15, 2020 “Cease and Desist Order,” the Ashland County Health Department rendered Mandy Close the first Ohio proprietor to permanently  lose her Food Service Operations License (“food license”) for an alleged failure to abide by an Order of the Director of the Ohio Department of Health putatively issued pursuant to R.C. 3701.13. No food license (or other business license, from what Plaintiffs can discern), has been seized in the 134-year history of that act.”

Mandy Close, owner of Cattleman’s Restaurant told the FOX 8 I-Team that she was shut down last week and given a letter saying her food license was suspended. The restaurant is located in Savannah in Ashland County.

The order Close received states the action was taken for failing to comply with state rules.

“Specifically, the Cattlemans Restaurant is not in compliance with the requirements of the Ohio Department of Health Director’s Dine Safe Ohio Order issued May 14, 2020. Section 10, number iii states that ’employees, face coverings must be worn at all times unless exceptions apply.’”

“The Ohio Constitution prevents administrative agencies from imagining new policies for suspending licenses and shutting down businesses,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “The State’s mask requirements remain largely symbolic and unenforceable.”

But Ashland County Health officials say they believe their actions are justified and say they have been threatened.

“In most situations, the Ashland County Health Department does not speak on open enforcement actions,” said Heather Reffett, Ashland County Health Commissioner. “ However, with regards to Cattleman’s Restaurant, the ACHD is confident that we will prove our case. Regardless of Ms. Close’s beliefs, actual facts do matter. I would add that ACHD responded to three citizen complaints regarding this restaurant and has been working with Ms. Close since June. I would be remiss to not point out that instead of complying with the law, Ms. Close has chosen to start a campaign of harassment and bullying of health department employees. By utilizing social media platforms, her restaurant provided a forum for comments about using guns and fertilizing plenty of fields (with our dead bodies).”

Close said she never threatened anyone and has no knowledge of any threats made against anyone. She said she asked for an emergency hearing before the Ashland County Board of Health. She was first told her hearing would be held Monday July 20, but was notified a few hours prior to the meeting that it had been cancelled.  

The case is pending before Judge Ronald Forsthoefel. No hearing date has been scheduled.

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