A Michigan Court of Appeals panel said a public health law that gave Michigan's health director the authority to close restaurants to control the spread of COVID-19 is unconstitutional, ruling in a split decision that the epidemic-control statute gave state health officials too much power with too few guardrails.
The 1978 statute, which gives the public health director power to control gatherings and issue rules to stop the spread of disease in the event of an epidemic, violates the non-delegation doctrine by granting legislative powers to the agency, the majority found.
"We find that the power delegated by the legislature to the executive in MCL 333.2253 is extremely broad and is essentially unlimited by restrictive standards," Judge Michael F. Gadola wrote for the majority in an opinion dated Thursday but released Friday.
The majority found a catering company and banquet hall, T&V Associates Inc., should have prevailed on its claim that the provision was unconstitutional, reversing a ruling of the Michigan Court of Claims.
The catering company said its business was devastated by the restrictions on indoor dining issued by the health department during the pandemic. Those restrictions included, at various times, bans on indoor food service, capacity limits dictating how full restaurants could be and restrictions on how late bars could remain open.
In a dissent, Judge Christopher P. Yates lamented that "the COVID-19 wars have raged on" in the courts despite the pandemic itself easing, finding that the issue was moot because the orders the catering company objected to have long since been rescinded.
"We judges have the power and, in my view, the duty under the mootness doctrine to dismiss the combatants from the COVID wars and bring down the curtain on this chapter in our history," Judge Yates said.
Judges Mark T. Boonstra, Michael F. Gadola and Christopher P. Yates sat on the panel for the Michigan Court of Appeals.
T&V Associates Inc. is represented by Albert B. Addis, Paul B. Addis and Justin M. Majewski of Michigan Justice PLLC.
Michigan Director of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Hertel is represented by Darrin F. Fowler, Kyla Barranco and Andrea L. Moua of the Michigan Attorney General's Office.
The case is T&V Associates Inc. v. Director of Health and Human Services, case number 361727, in the Michigan Court of Appeals.