After a months-long delay, a defiant restaurant will have its case against the state heard in its backyard.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a request from the Department of Health to decide whether its suit against Firehouse BBQ should be heard in Baton Rouge or in Livingston Parish, according to court records.
That means the state’s suit against the restaurant for violating COVID-19 restrictions will be heard in 21st Judicial District Court, which encompasses Livingston, St. Helena, and Tangipahoa parishes. State attorneys had argued that cases involving the state should be heard in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision, endorsed by all six of the seven state justices, came more than three months after the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion in late September.
In a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon, the restaurant celebrated the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision and called it a “great start to 2021,” adding that patrons will be informed of the case “[as] more info comes available.”
“A great start to 2021! I just got word from my attorney that in the first group of decisions to be made from the Louisiana Supreme Court, 6 out of 7 justices decided against the opposing counsel's application to move our case to East Baton Rouge Parish!” read the post. “We will be having the case heard in Livingston Parish!!”
The state’s case against Firehouse BBQ dates back to the summer, when officials pulled the restaurant’s food permit for failing to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions set by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
According to the business inspection in late July, Firehouse BBQ was docked for tables not being spaced appropriately and employees not wearing face masks. The restaurant was then served with a notice that ownership was to close their establishment “immediately.”
In a filing the first week of August, owner Danielle Bunch’s lawyer said she informed the inspector that her employees had various medical issues that prevented them from being able to wear a face mask while working, one of the exceptions to Edwards’ mask mandate.
Attorney General Jeff Landry later lent his support to the owner of Firehouse BBQ, filing a brief on behalf of the Livingston Parish restaurant late in the summer.
Despite having its permit pulled, the popular eatery has remained in operation, and Bunch has repeatedly said via social media that she will not comply with the “illegal mandate.”
Counsel for the state has argued that the restaurant is contributing to “irreparable harm to the public health, in the form of unnecessary risk of additional spread of COVID-19” by not adhering to rules that have been vetted by the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Center for Disease Control.
On multiple occasions, Edwards has called the restaurant’s actions “reckless,” “irresponsible,” and “unlawful.”
Judge Brian Abels approved a restraining order in August that blocked the Department of Health from taking any action against the restaurant while the case proceeds.