Michigan bowling alleys sue, seeking compensation for COVID-19 closures

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A group of Michigan bowling alleys filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday, arguing that business closures aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 amounted to an illegal taking of their property.

The lawsuit names Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the department's director, Robert Gordon, as defendants. It's the latest legal challenge against business restrictions imposed by state officials during the ongoing pandemic.

In this photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a news conference in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.

In the suit, four bowling alleys and one skating center said they employed more than 250 people combined before state-imposed restrictions kept them closed for eight months last year.

"Defendants’ COVID-19 policies have required the complete closure of plaintiffs’ businesses, thereby effectively taking their businesses through governmental policy and regulation without offering any compensation for these takings," the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs in the case are Roll Haven Skating Center in Genesee County, Spartan West Bowling Center in Mason County, Royal Scot Golf & Bowl in Clinton County, Fremont Lanes in Newaygo County and Spectrum Lanes in Newaygo County.

They are seeking a court order that their constitutional rights were violated and compensation "for the value of the property taken by defendants."

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires the payment of just compensation upon the taking of private property, and COVID-19 orders "did not substantially advance a legitimate state interest," the bowling alleys contend.

The Kallman Legal Group is representing the businesses. The suit was filed in Michigan's Western District.

After a second COVID-19 surge hit Michigan, Gordon issued an epidemic order that closed bowling alleys and suspended indoor dining at restaurants on Nov. 15. It took effect Nov. 18. Bowling alleys were able to reopen on Dec. 21.

Many lawsuits from businesses and other groups seeking to challenge the COVID-19 orders have been unsuccessful as judges have opposed the idea of intervening in executive branch functions. As of Wednesday, Michigan has reported 542,146 coronavirus cases and 13,905 deaths linked to the virus.

On Oct. 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer had violated her constitutional power by continuing to issue orders to combat COVID-19 without the approval of state lawmakers.

The governor's administration has since used epidemic orders issued by Gordon under the Public Health Code to require masks be worn and impose restrictions on public gatherings.

In December, Western District Judge Paul Maloney, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, denied a restaurant group's request for a preliminary injunction to immediately quash the state's ban on indoor dining.

In a Tuesday interview, Gordon said there was strong reason to believe Michigan's pause on certain businesses is working. In recent weeks, Michigan has reported significant drops in COVID-19 infection rates, deaths and hospitalizations linked to the virus and the rate of tests bringing positive results — metrics that have been included in decision-making on when to strengthen or lift restrictions.