Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, Dr. Faisal Khan, and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health for the arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable application of COVID-19 restrictions in St. Louis County. Specifically, the suit takes issue with the restrictions on religious institutions, masking requirements for K-12 education, government pre-approval for events, and outdoor mask requirements, among others.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found by clicking here.
“Three weeks ago, I sent a letter to St. Louis County asking for an explanation and evidence justifying the County’s extreme restrictions on St. Louis County residents. The County’s response was vague and unresponsive. Just several days later, the County rushed to amend their shut-down order in an apparent attempt to appease this Office and avoid litigation. It has not,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “From requiring a mask outdoors to subjecting citizens to government pre-approval for private events, enough is enough. The seemingly unending control over people’s lives must end. Vaccines are widely available to all adults – it’s past time for St. Louis County to lift these restrictions, and that’s why I filed suit.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday morning in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, 21stJudicial Circuit, argues that the latest shut-down order from St. Louis County Executive Sam Page continues to “impose unjustified burdens on religious, economic, and personal freedom. The Order reflects arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable government action by refusing to consider important aspects of the problem and refusing to consider less restrictive alternatives that are reasonable under the circumstances.”
The Attorney General’s Office previously sent a letter to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, seeking more information related to the County’s Fifth Amended “Safer at Home” Order, specifically studies supporting restrictions and lesser alternatives considered, as well as justification of lockdowns in relation to their educational, psychological, and economic impact, among other concerns. St. Louis County’s response letter failed to address a multitude of issues raised in the Attorney General’s letter. Within a week of sending their response, St. Louis County Executive Page announced the “Reopen STL” order, removing certain objectionable restrictions that the Attorney General’s Office raised in the letter.
However, the lawsuit states that the new “Reopen STL” order continues to “impose significant restrictions on personal and religious freedoms, and it contains many provisions that are arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, vague, and self-contradictory.” Additionally, the “Reopen STL” order appears to be rushed following the Attorney General’s Office’s letter, with multiple typos and contradictions.
For example, the order requires that outdoor activities, despite the number of attendees, must require masks and social distancing. However, on that same page, the guidance states that “viral particles disperse more quickly outdoors,” and that “if outdoors, you need to be distanced or masked.”
Further, the order states that events of less than 500 people should follow the Event Planning Guidelines, while events of more than 500 are required to submit an event plan to St. Louis County DPH for approval, creating the appearance that events of less than 500 aren’t required to submit an event plan to St. Louis County DPH. However, the lawsuit states, “moreover, to the extent that Defendants intended to permit smaller events to proceed without government pre-approval, the Order is, at best, vague, ambiguous, and self-contradictory,” such that many may have to simply guess what the order is requiring.
The lawsuit also takes issue with mask requirements on K-12 education, stating, “to continue this sweeping mask mandate for K-12 educational activities is arbitrary, capricious, irrational, and unlawful, in light of the universal availability of vaccines for educational staff, the adverse impact on education, and the low risk of transmission in educational settings.”
In light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions Tandon v. Newsome and Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, the lawsuit also argues that the Order, in requiring religious institutions to seek pre-approval from the government and imposing capacity restrictions, social distancing, and masking requirements on religious institutions, violates religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The suit brings eight counts against St. Louis County – two counts related to religious exercise, one count alleging violation of freedom of assembly for requiring government pre-approval for events, one count alleging that the latest order is vague and should be declared void, and four counts alleging St. Louis County’s Order is arbitrary and capricious for failing to give meaningful consideration to negative impacts of the Order, for failing to consider less restrictive alternatives, for failing to provide criteria for lifting restrictions, and for broadly unreasonable substantive restrictions.
The suit asks the court for an injunction or other appropriate action related to the claims brought.