DETROIT – Greek-American Sam Backos, the owner Ernie’s Mediterranean Restaurant in Clinton Township, MI, is part of the recently formed Macomb County Restaurant, Bar, and Banquet Association which has filed a lawsuit against Michigan officials “seeking economic damages suffered because of state COVID-19 closures and restrictions,” the Detroit Free Press (DFP) reported on February 23.
“They're killing us,” Backos told DFP, noting that “we've lost lots of money, we are asking to be made whole.”
Macomb County attorney Albert Addis represents the Association and “cites that under the state’s constitution the restaurant business has been taken away without ‘just compensation,’” DFP reported.
He said, “We filed this lawsuit on a simple legal premise that we think is strong, and one that has not been decided by any court yet- that premise is the Michigan constitution does not allow the government by fiat to take away people’s property and businesses without just compensation,” the Macomb Daily reported.
The Association is “asking for a jury trial and damages in excess of $25,000, according to the lawsuit,” DFP reported, adding that the lawsuit mentions “all the instances of restaurant COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions” and “called the recent reopening of restaurants restricted to 25% capacity as ‘suffocating regulations.’”
“When restaurants pivoted to outdoor dining using heaters, tents, outdoor sheds, and other units, the lawsuit claims the defendants ‘unleashed agents’ of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to issue fines along with threats to shut a business down,” DFP reported.
“We are asking for merely that, that the restaurants in this group, Macomb County, be fairly compensated through the process of discovery, a jury trial and damages," Addis told the Macomb Daily.
“The lawsuit also cites the Michigan Supreme Court October ruling striking down Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers,” DFP reported.
Backos said that “the Association has more than 123 restaurants and growing,” DFP reported.
“We are getting positive response from restaurant and banquet owners, they are all wanting to jump on board and help support our cause," Backos said, DFP reported. “We wanted to form a united front to go against the state for what we feel has been disproportionate punishment that we've been subject to.”
“Gov. Whitmer, Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Serves (MDHHS), and Patrick Gagliardi, chair of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, are named as defendants,” DFP reported.
“The crux of the lawsuit by forcing us to close, taking away our business under Michigan and the U.S. constitution we are entitled to just compensation,” Backos said, DFP reported. "You can't just seize property without paying… and in effect, that's what they've done.”
"Yet we are paying taxes at assessed values in what is not keeping with what is going on right now,” Backos continued, DFP reported. “In my case, after 44 years, how do you put a value on a business that is closed now. This is the damage that has been done.”
"We don't understand that our neighboring states are at 100% and we can't even get close to that. We need to be open,” he said, DFP reported.
The first shutdown of indoor dining at Michigan restaurants was last March and lasted until June, DFP reported, adding that Gov. Whitmer “announced a three-week pause” in mid-November which “included a ban on indoor dining.”
“The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MLRA) responded by filing a lawsuit against the state for a temporary injunction in an attempt to stop the pause that forced the state's restaurants and bars to shut down,” DFP reported, noting that “the MRLA was not successful with the lawsuit or any of its appeals.”
“The initial three-week pause in indoor dining was extended several times and remained in place,” DFP reported, adding that “on Feb. 1, indoor dining could resume with restrictions including a 25% capacity limit.”
Backos “insists the interest in the lawsuit is not a ‘money grab,’” DFP reported.
“We are not looking to enrich ourselves," he said, DFP reported, “We are looking to be made whole so we can continue our careers supporting our families and move on with our lives.”
Ernie's Mediterranean Restaurant is located at 16655 19 Mile Road in Clinton Township. More information is available online: www.erniesmi.com.