District Court Judges Decide Against Forced Masks and Signage Related to COVID-19

Travis Ahner, Esq
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By KIANNA GARDNER, Daily Inter Lake | October 23, 2020 1:00 PM

The Montana Department of Public      Health and Human Services has lodged complaints against four Flathead County businesses alleging the entities violated COVID-19 directives by failing to ensure employees and patrons wore masks and that the establishments displayed proper signage related to COVID-19 protocols.

The lawsuits were filed Friday in Flathead County District Court against Sykes Diner in Kalispell, The Remington Bar in Whitefish and the Ferndale Market and Your Turn Mercantile/Your Lucky Turn Casino in Bigfork. The businesses have been given 21 days to respond to the complaints, according to court documents filed Friday.

The state health department had sought an immediate injunction that would have required the businesses to immediately shut down via restraining orders and called for the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department to enforce the measure. As part of the request, the businesses would be allowed to reopen only after they submitted plans that would implement measures to comply with the state’s mask directive and other public health orders.

But multiple Flathead County District Court judges decided not to impose those measures. Instead, summons were filed giving the businesses three weeks to respond to the charges, meaning the businesses can continue to operate until further action has been decided upon....

THE ALLEGATIONS were the subject of a Thursday news conference with Gov. Steve Bullock. State health officials announced they were seeking temporary restraining orders against the establishments, which they described as being “repeat offenders” of public health orders....

But according to Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner, although Bullock has honed in on the valley’s outbreak, Flathead County has not received adequate support from the state....

Ahner also said he believes the complaints brought against the four local businesses are misguided and lack evidence when it comes to the role those businesses play in Flathead County’s outbreak.

He pointed to a recent announcement from the Flathead City-County Health Department in which officials said investigations had linked recent cases to indoor gatherings and large events, not specifically to bars, restaurants, gas stations or other similar businesses.

“When we don’t have any data that specifically ties cases to these places and their actions, that to me, is of note,” Ahner said. “How did they pick these places versus others? These businesses have already been through enough without another shut down.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com