A group of local business and government leaders, along with several others, filed lawsuits in Chelan and Douglas counties Friday seeking to strip Gov. Jay Inslee of his COVID-19 emergency powers and lift restrictions imposed under his Stay Home, Stay Healthy orders.
The lawsuits, filed in Chelan and Douglas County Superior Courts, claim Inslee was granted the emergency powers when there were fears the COVID-19 pandemic would create a surge of cases that would overwhelm hospitals and other health care facilities.
That concern never materialized in Chelan and Douglas counties and no current modeling of the pandemic indicates that it will in the future, the suit says.
The lawsuits are two of several that have been filed in the state seeking to overturn restrictions imposed by Inslee during the pandemic. Bainbridge Island Attorney Joel Ard, filed both lawsuits in Douglas and Chelan counties, and also represents plaintiffs in several of the earlier suits.
Ard claims Inslee has unconstitutionally changed the terms of his emergency declaration.
The Chelan and Douglas County lawsuits don’t seek monetary relief but cite financial, emotional and spiritual losses each of the plaintiffs have suffered under Inslee’s order.
In Chelan County, the 30 plaintiffs include four members of the Wenatchee City Council; lead plaintiff Jose Cuevas, Ruth Esparza, Linda Herald and Travis Hornsby.
All three Douglas County Commissioners are among the nine plaintiffs in that county’s lawsuit, including lead plaintiff Dan Sutton, Mark Straub and Kyle Steinberg.
In the Chelan County suit, Cuevas said income from his insurance business has been nonexistent, as has the income from his wife’s business, Adis Salon, during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy restrictions.
Another plaintiff, Rachelle Johnson, owner of The Inner Circle Gym, said she had to shut down her business after three months of operation, lost her evening job and “has yet to receive a penny of unemployment.”
She said she must be able to open her gym immediately in order to survive.
Herald said her business, KCSY FM radio, is down 50 percent “and if the Stay at Home Order stays in effect much longer, she and her husband will lose the business.”
Former state Rep. Cary Condotta also is a plaintiff in the Chelan County lawsuit. Condotta hosts the program “The 12th District” on NCWLIFE and also works as an account executive at the station.
In Douglas County, Sutton cited the closure of his restaurant, The Cottage Inn.
Though at the time he said there also were other reasons for closing the 80-year-old business, in the suit Sutton says “when the stay at home order was extended to the exclusion of the busy Memorial Day Weekend it was the final blow to the business.”
Steinberg said he has been able to retain all the employees at his business, Wenatchee Body and Fender, thanks to a loan from the federal Payroll Protection Program. But at the end of the loan-forgiveness period he will need to let employees go unless there is a significant increase in business, he said.
Steinberg said he has seen “an extraordinarily high number of customers who are not able to afford the deductible because they recently became unemployed or experienced a serious loss in income.”
Plaintiff Jim Walker, owner of Lone Pine Fruit and Espresso north of Orondo, said if more time passes under Inslee’s restrictions “the outcome will be catastrophic” to his business.
Another plaintiff, Jesse Rains, owner of Joe’s East Sports Bar & Grill in East Wenatchee, said if he is unable to open up for Memorial Day weekend “the financial harm will be catastrophic and likely to cause the failure of his business.”
It is unclear if the lawsuits filed here or across the state will have any immediate impact on Inslee’s ability to continue his emergency orders. If the suits receive favorable rulings from local judges, the state would almost certainly appeal those rulings in Washington’s higher courts.
Unless the legal process is significantly expedited, that could take weeks.
Former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who ran against Inslee for governor in 2012, told KOMO TV Friday that he believes Inslee is acting within his legal rights.
Inslee has a four-phased plan for the gradual reopening of much of the state. So far, 25 of Washington’s counties have either moved to, or are eligible to apply to move to, Phase 2 of that plan.
Phase 2 allows the reopening of many professional services, retail businesses and restaurants, though with restrictions.
Douglas and Chelan counties remain in Phase 1. The counties submitted a request this month to restart much of the local economy but that request was rejected by the state.
It is expected the two counties will be able to move to Phase 2 on June 1 under Inslee’s timelines announced earlier, but that is not certain.
During a news conference this week in which Inslee announced additional counties added to the Phase 2 list, he also cited the number of positive coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days as a factor in his decisions.
Chelan and Douglas counties do not meet Inslee’s criteria under those standards.
In fact, Chelan County has seen a spike in positive COVID-19 tests just this week. On Wednesday, the Chelan-Douglas Health District reported there were 11 new cases, then six more on Friday, and 13 more in the Saturday report.
The health district said the 11 new cases Wednesday “were not related to any specific testing effort or identified cluster.” Details on the Saturday report were not immediately available.
As of Saturday morning, Chelan has had 208 COCID-19 cases and six deaths. Douglas County has had 147 positive tests and three deaths.