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Restaurant wins challenge to law used during dining ban

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The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the decision.

A judge in northern Michigan has ruled in favor of a restaurant in a challenge to a law that was used to stop indoor dining during the pandemic in 2020.

A portion of the law that gives sweeping authority to the state health department is unconstitutional, Otsego County Judge Colin Hunter said on Jan. 13.

Hunter’s decision is limited to Otsego County in the northern Lower Peninsula. But if appealed to a higher court by the attorney general’s office, the case could set a precedent across Michigan.

A Gaylord restaurant, the Iron Pig Smokehouse, was fined $5,000 in 2020 for allowing indoor dining, despite a state prohibition. The health department said it was trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19 around Michigan.

But Hunter said the law cited by the state to restrict dining was too broad.

“The director possesses free rein to exercise a substantial part of our state and local legislative authority — including police powers — for an indefinite period of time, limited only by the director’s determinations that an epidemic exists and that his actions are necessary,” the judge said.

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