A lawsuit filed in state superior court Monday on behalf of two restaurant owners, a skin care business, a woman who was fined for violating quarantine after travel and Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, is asking the court to declare the governor’s emergency powers invalid.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers were extended until February following a vote by legislative leaders and members of the Public Health Committee. Republicans voted against extending the governor’s powers but were overruled by Democrats who held the majority of the votes.
The plaintiffs are represented by Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, and Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, who have filed other lawsuits challenging the governor’s executive orders.
The complaint contains two counts: the first asserting that the COVID-19 pandemic does not fall under the category of a civil preparedness emergency as defined in state statute, and the second that Connecticut’s low hospitalization rate means the governor’s extension of the public health emergency declaration is invalid.
The governor’s powers to suspend legislation and regulations comes under the civil preparedness emergency statute, which defines a “major disaster” as “hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm or drought, or, regardless of cause, any fire, flood, explosion, or man-made disaster in any part of this state.”
The lawsuit states that the governor has not identified any of those incidents to warrant a civil preparedness emergency declaration.
The statute definitions indicate that the governor may declare such an emergency under the civil preparedness and public health emergency section. The lawsuit contends that the civil preparedness emergency declaration did not meet the statutory criteria.
The second count regards the continuation of the public health emergency despite the low numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. The complaint cites data published by the State Department of Education and the Department of Public Health showing the hospitalization rate as .3 per 100,000 people in August, just before Lamont declared an extension of his emergency powers on September 1.
“DPH’s own published data make clear that the risk of contracting COVID-19, the risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and the risk of dying from COVID-19 in Connecticut from COVID-19 are very small,” the complaint reads.
The public health emergency statute says the governor’s powers will end when there is no longer a “substantial risk of a significant number of human fatalities or incidents of long-term disability.”
“Since the Defendant’s original declaration of public health emergency on March 10, 2020, the prospect of COVID-19 posing a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to Connecticut’s residents has reduced to the point that makes the Defendant’s continued usurpation of the Legislative Branch’s constitutional powers to modify and/or suspend statutes and/or regulations completely meritless,” the complaint reads.
The business owners claim they have been harmed by the governor’s closure of non-essential businesses and the delay of the governor’s phased reopening plan. Based on hospitalization rates, Connecticut should have entered into its third reopening phase, but Lamont has held back, citing upticks of coronavirus in other states.
The complaint also cites the governor’s travel restrictions, which levy a fine against people who do not quarantine following travel into Connecticut from particular states and resulted in a fine against one of the plaintiffs.
The governor announced more fines on Monday for people who violate his orders regarding the use of masks and social gatherings.
Rep. Mike France is also a plaintiff, arguing that the governor’s emergency powers have usurped his legislative powers.
This is the fifth such lawsuit filed challenging the governor’s emergency declaration or his executive orders.
Roxy Nail Salon filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s quick about-face on allowing nail salons to reopen at the same time as hair salons. The governor pushed back the reopening date for nail salons by two weeks but allowed hair salons and barber shops to reopen.
Another lawsuit filed by a variety of businesses, including Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, in his capacity as a realor, challenges the constitutionality of Lamont’s closure of businesses deemed non-essential.
Two other lawsuits challenge the State Department of Education’s mask requirement for students returning to school.