State issues citations, suspends liquor licenses of businesses it says violated COVID-19 orders

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued citations and the state Liquor Control Commission suspended liquor licenses for businesses allegedly violating a recent public health order to stop the spread of COVID-19, state officials said Wednesday.

The commission issued emergency suspensions of the liquor licenses and permits held by Cory’s Restaurant Inc./Jimmy’s Roadhouse in Newaygo; Brew Works of Fremont; and the Meeting Place LLC in Fenton, according to a statement.

A federal judge again denied a Michigan restaurant association's request to immediately quash the state's ban on indoor dining. Eateries like Mootz pizzeria are limited to carryout orders now that the weather makes outdoor dining unbearable.

The licensees’ alleged multiple violations included allowing in-person gatherings, providing in-person dining and failing to require face coverings for staff and patrons.

A virtual hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled Dec. 4 to determine whether the suspensions should continue or other fines and penalties need to be imposed, the commission said.

“Our office is working closely with the commission as it exercises its duties and we are prepared to prosecute these summary suspensions,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “Although none of us wants to take such actions, the deliberate and blatant defiance of the state emergency public health orders by these owners put their businesses at risk. While we are heartbroken at the toll these closures invariably have on the businesses affected, first and foremost, the state has an obligation to protect the lives of our residents.”

Following reports of noncompliance from local health departments and law enforcement, the Department of Health and Human Services also issued citations of at least $1,000 to the Meeting Place and three other businesses: Big Boy of Sandusky, Café Rosetta in Calumet and Woodchips Barbecue in Lapeer.

The civil fines are due within 30 days of receiving the citations. 

“The vast majority of restaurant and bar owners are doing the right thing and they have temporarily closed their indoor service to help prevent the spread of the virus,” MDHHS director Robert Gordon said. “We know this is not easy for anyone; this is not an action we take lightly, but the sooner we can mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the sooner we can all get back to doing the things we enjoy.”

The actions come as Michigan’s COVID-19 daily death average has quadrupled in the last five weeks, state officials said.

The state added 4,273 cases and 73 more deaths Wednesday. The latest additions bring the state's total of confirmed cases to 324,779 and deaths to 8,761 since the virus was first detected in Michigan in March, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Cases of COVID-19 are incredibly high across the state, and these orders are in place to help prevent the spread of the virus, save lives and protect our frontline workers,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS.

“We need to do everything we can to alleviate the stress on our hospitals and health care workers. Food service establishments like restaurants and bars can help play a critical role by following the order, and most of them are doing their part.”