San Diego County Restaurants Can Reopen For Indoor & Outdoor Onsite Dining Thanks To Strip Club Lawsuit

December 17, 2020

In a ruling dated yesterday, a San Diego County Court determined that state and county officials are enjoined from enforcing California's regional stay at home order prohibiting live adult entertainment and "businesses with restaurant service from... continuing to operate their respective business."

A lawsuit filed by the parent companies operating Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club and Pacers Showgirls International has been making its way through San Diego County Superior Court for the past two months. In the latest ruling, Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil issued a 9 page order stating "any governmental agency or law enforcement officer" is prohibited from enforcing the state and local health mandates against the two San Diego strip club plaintiffs. The order states that government agents are barred from restricting live adult entertainment and restaurant businesses from operating, both indoors and outdoors, on the caveat that this is "subject to the protocols that are no greater than essential to further Defendants [County of San Diego] response to control the spread of COVID." The foundation for the ruling is that the state of California and San Diego County have not provided evidence linking the spread of COVID-19 or lack of intensive care unit capacity to live adult entertainment or businesses with restaurant service.

"These business establishments provide sustenance to and enliven the spirits of the community, while providing employers and employees with means to put food on the table and secure shelter, clothing, medical care, education and, of course, peace of mind for they and their families," wrote Judge Wohlfeil in his minutes order. "

Following the ruling, on Wednesday evening, San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond tweeted out that the county would not enforce restaurant closures, stating "BREAKING: A judge just ruled that he could not find a connection between resturant [sic] services and the spread of COVID. He has directed the county to allow businesses with resturant [sic] services to operate their business safely and responsibly." San Diego County has said it would pause enforcing the ban on onsite dining at county restaurants until further notice.

In a response to the ruling, the County of San Diego issued a statement: "The State and the County are analysing the scope of the fuling and discussing next steps which includes seeking clarity from the court. Until we have clarity, we have suspended enforcement activities against restaurants and live entertainment establishments. With record numbers of new infestions, deaths, and ICUs at capacity, we want to remind everyone to do your part. Please don't gather, socially distance, wear a face covering, and wash your hands."

While this latest local court ruling may appear to be a win for San Diego's struggling hospitality industry, it could result in a whole host of new challenges. Restaurants are now forced to decide between opening in accordance with the county ruling and facing punishment on the state level, such as risking liquor license privileges, or remaining closed. Even if the ruling is upheld on a state level, it could result in restaurants expending funds on legal fees and associated costs defending their position and/or actions. A restaurant's decision as to whether or not to open may also be perceived by the public as a political stance. During an unprecedentedly turbulent year for the restaurant industry, such a ruling, contrary to state and local health orders, only serves to further exacerbate the chaos and confusion.

The case Midway Venture LLC v County of San Diego remains ongoing. See the full minute order below.