Two Minnesota restaurants that in May violated or threatened to violate statewide shutdown orders intended to curb the spread of COVID will pay civil fines, under a settlement of lawsuits filed by Attorney General Keith Ellison's office.
The Boardwalk Bar and Grill in East Grand Forks, Minn., will pay $25,000 and have a 30-day license suspension, Ellison's office announced Friday. A restaurant chain known as Shady's, which operates six locations in Stearns, Benton, and Todd counties, will pay a $30,000 fine.
The attorney general's office sued the Shady's chain when owner Kris Schiffler vowed to reopen despite Gov. Tim Walz's emergency executive order. The order, filed in mid-May, extended restrictions against in-person dining that Walz had ordered in March. Schiffler posted on social media: "We will be opening our doors Monday, May 18 ... we can't wait to see you," with the hashtags "#landofthefreebecauseofthebrave" and #togetherwestand."
On the day that bars were to open, Ellison's office obtained a temporary restraining order to halt that and threatened penalties of up to $25,000 per violation. In response, Schiffler told a crowd of several hundred supporters outside his Albany bar that, on the advice of his lawyer, he would not defy the order.
When a temporary injunction barred Shady's from opening in violation of the order, the restaurant brought counterclaims against the governor and other state officials, all of which were dismissed following opposition from the Attorney General's Office. In August, the Attorney General's Office won summary judgment on its claims and was permitted to seek fees for its litigation costs.
Under the terms of a consent judgment filed in Stearns County, Shady's will pay $30,000 to the state. The money will go into the state's general fund and not to the Attorney General's Office, according to a news release.
The Shady's settlement comes on the heels of a similar case in Polk County, where Ellison's office obtained a consent judgment requiring Boardwalk Bar and Grill to pay $25,000 for violations of Emergency Executive Order 20-99 issued last November. Boardwalk will also have its liquor and food and beverage licenses suspended for 30 days under the terms of separate settlements with the state Public Safety and Health departments.
In December 2020, a Polk County court ordered Boardwalk to close and the Department of Health served the restaurant with a cease-and-desist order. It opened in defiance of local law enforcement, with owner Jane Moss protesting that restaurants can't survive financially while closed. She added that restaurants across the river in North Dakota, which did not have the same mandates, were open and "doing well."
At the time, COVID rates were high in Polk County, and North Dakota had the highest per capita rate of COVID cases in the country.
The attorney general filed suit in December, winning a temporary injunction from the court.
"The vast majority of restaurants and businesses around the state complied with the governor's orders: they put the health and safety of their customers and community ahead of their profits, and I thank them for it," Ellison said in a statement. "They should not suffer unfair and illegal competition from other businesses just because they did the right thing. We continue to be committed to holding accountable those entities that put public safety at risk."
The Attorney General's Office has settled lawsuits with seven other establishments — six bars or restaurants and one gym — that agreed to penalties ranging from fines stayed pending further violations to a $15,000 fine.