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Court of Claims dismisses lawsuit challenging the state's mask mandate

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A state Court of Claims judge has rejected a challenge of the state's mask mandate issued in October by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

Judge Christopher Murray dismissed a case brought by Grand Haven's Semlow Peak Performance Chiropractic and chiropractor Kirk Semlow that had pleaded for relief from the state's epidemic order requiring masks indoors. 

Ottawa County Health Department warned Semlow in October that if he failed to enforce the mask mandate in his office, he could face a misdemeanor, the closure of his business or licensing sanctions through the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs agency.

Semlow didn't challenge the constitutionality of the public health law underpinning Director Robert Gordon but only argued that Michigan's public health law does not give Gordon authority to issue a mask mandate. Instead, he said, the law limits Gordon to "prohibit public gatherings."

But the law also allows the director to "establish procedure" during a pandemic "to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws."

That language, the state argued, is "sufficiently broad" to allow for the director to issue a mask mandate. 

Part of insuring public health services is the "protection of hospital resources during the pandemic," wrote Murray, an appointee of Republican former Gov. John Engler. 

"The mask mandate is a procedure that can be used to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, and thus, it is one that can be implemented under the statute to help 'insure continuation of essential public health services,'" Murray wrote. 

At least two other lawsuits, both from private schools, were filed around the same time as Semlow's and challenged the state's mask mandate.

Both schools — Resurrection School in Lansing and Libertas Christian Academy in Hudsonville — challenged portions of the mask mandate on religious grounds in federal court but have so far been unsuccessful. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com