Minneapolis Vaccine Mandate Stands for Bars, Restaurants

Minneapolis Vaccine Mandate Stands for Bars, Restaurants

A Hennepin County judge has denied a legal challenge to the city’s order that requires patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test result.

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey’s vaccine mandate stands.

A Hennepin County judge on Friday rejected a challenge to the city’s emergency order requiring proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test result for patrons in bars and restaurants.

Earlier this month, a group composed primarily of downtown Minneapolis bars sued the city and asked the courts to halt the vaccine mandate. In her ruling Friday, Hennepin County district judge Laurie Miller wrote that the plaintiffs didn’t present a compelling enough case to warrant a restraining order against the measure.

The plaintiffs had argued that the city’s order was causing them an immediate drop in business. But Miller noted that they hadn’t submitted any evidence, “other than their own opinions,” to prove that the vaccine mandate was behind the drop in sales.

“Perhaps some patrons are staying away because they fear the rapid spread of the Omicron variant,” Miller suggested. “Perhaps some patrons are staying home due to the weather. Perhaps some patrons have chosen to stay away from Plaintiffs’ establishments solely due to their desire to avoid having to comply with [the vaccine-or-test mandate], but that has not been shown on the record before the Court.”

While Miller recognized the pandemic’s “devastating economic impact” on restaurants and bars, she wrote that the city of Minneapolis “cannot be held responsible for general pandemic-related business losses.”

The bars had also raised concerns about staffing issues related to enforcing the vaccine mandate. Yet Miller noted that bars already have staffers on hand to check IDs. “Checking to make sure patrons have either a vaccine card or a proof of testing,” Miller wrote, “is arguably just another compliance check process.”

“The Court finds that the economic harm feared by Plaintiffs does not outweigh the City’s documented public health concerns,” Miller wrote. “Therefore, this factor does not weigh in favor of issuance of the [temporary restraining] order sought by Plaintiffs.”

In a statement to MPR News, an attorney representing the bars and restaurants expressed disappointment with the ruling, and said that the court “should have focused more on the Minneapolis City Council declaring a continued emergency and departure from its own rules for the Covid-19 pandemic.” It’s not immediately clear if the plaintiffs will seek an appeal.

The bars and restaurants that sued the city included the owners of Smack Shack, the Gay 90’s, Sneaky Pete’s, Bunkers Music Bar and Grill, and Greg’s Saloon Minneapolis.

The city’s vaccine-or-test mandate has already been modified since it was first issued Jan. 12. After the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Biden administration’s broader vaccine mandate for employers, Frey issued an amended version of the mandate and removed a requirement for bar and restaurant employees to be vaccinated or face regular tests.

In Hennepin County, most residents are vaccinated. According to state data, 83.6 percent of Hennepin County residents over the age of 5 have received at least one dose of a vaccine against Covid-19.

St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter issued a similar mandate for bars and restaurants in his city, though his order affects far fewer establishments. Though St. Paul’s mandate applies to all bars in the city, it only applies to one-third of restaurants due to the way they’re licensed, the Pioneer Press reported earlier this month.