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Haven’s Garden faces MDH lawsuit

Suit seeks to enforce governor’s order; restaurant owner says she will stay open

LYND — The Minnesota Department of Health is suing a Lynd restaurant that has been serving customers indoors, in violation of an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz. A hearing in the case is scheduled for this afternoon, and over the weekend a judge issued a temporary restraining order Against Haven’s Garden, court records said.

However, on Monday Haven’s Garden owner Larvita McFarquhar posted a video on social media saying the restaurant will stay open.

“I am open, and I will stay open,” McFarquhar said in a video posted on the Haven’s Garden Facebook page around 1 p.m.

The lawsuit against Haven’s Garden was one of a few different actions the MDH took last week against businesses operating in violation of the governor’s orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. An executive order currently in effect prohibits dine-in service at Minnesota bars and restaurants through Dec. 18.

On Thursday, the MDH served the Boardwalk Bar and Grill in East Grand Forks with a cease and desist order for operating in violation of the executive order. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison also filed suit against the Boardwalk Bar and Grill, and the Polk County District Court granted a temporary restraining order against the business. On Friday, the MDH announced it was suing Haven’s Garden with assistance from the Attorney General’s Office. The MDH also revoked the license of the Iron Waffle restaurant in Crow Wing County after complaints alleging violations of employee mask requirements.

“We work with regulated facilities to bring them into compliance and we consider regulatory or legal action only as a last resort,” MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said Friday. “Most Minnesotans and Minnesota businesses are doing their best to follow best practices and do what’s in their power to help slow down the spread of the virus. Consistent enforcement is an important fairness issue for the vast majority of businesses that are following COVID-19-related protocols. It’s also important to minimize the spread of this virus, which has already sickened and killed far too many of our friends, neighbors and loved ones.”

The MDH filed the lawsuit against Haven’s Garden in Ramsey County District Court on Friday. The suit seeks to stop Haven’s Garden from violating Executive Order 20-99, which prohibits dine-in service at restaurants. Violating the order “poses an immediate risk to the public health,” court documents said.

The MDH lawsuit alleges that 80 to 100 people were observed eating and drinking at an event held at Haven’s Garden on Nov. 27. An MDH inspector served Haven’s Garden with a 72-hour cease and desist order on Dec. 9, and observed two people sitting at the bar rail at the time, the lawsuit alleges. Neither the customers nor the restaurant staff were wearing masks, the suit alleges.

Court documents filed Friday said the MDH also requested a temporary restraining order against Haven’s Garden. COVID-19 can spread easily when people spend time indoors eating and drinking together, the MDH said. One example the court documents cited was a wedding party held in Ghent this summer. Out of 275 people attending the event, 77 people in nine Minnesota counties later tested positive for COVID-19, the documents said.

On Dec. 12, a judge granted a temporary restraining order against Haven’s Garden, court records said.

An attorney representing Haven’s Garden filed an answer to the lawsuit on Dec. 13, along with a memorandum opposing the temporary restraining order. Attorney Nathan Hansen argued that the closure of Minnesota bars and restaurants was “arbitrary and capricious.”

If COVID-19 posed as big a health threat as the MDH claimed, the governor should have also ordered restaurants on Indian reservations to close, Hansen argued in an answer to the MDH suit.

In the answer and memo, Hansen also argued that the closure of Minnesota bars and restaurants violated state and U.S. constitutional rights.

“In the U.S., rights that originated with the Magna Carta have now disappeared,” the memorandum said. “The right to run a legitimate business, the Minnesota Constitutional right to an adequate education for children, the right to travel, the right not to be subject to experiments without consent, and many more have all disappeared or been suspended.”

A hearing in the case was set for 1:30 p.m. today. Court records said the hearing would be held remotely, via teleconferencing.

On Monday afternoon, McFarquhar posted two new videos on the Haven’s Garden Facebook page. In one video, she said she had been served with papers related to the lawsuit, and had until a set time to decide whether to keep the restaurant open.

“If I stay open, I face jail time or fines of $25,000 for every occurrence,” McFarquhar said in the video. “I’m frazzled, and I’m just upset the state of Minnesota is deciding to bully small businesses into complying with what they want with threats.”

However, that post was followed by another video Monday afternoon, where McFarquhar said she was staying open. As Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” played in the background of the video, McFarquhar urged other businesses affected by the executive orders to open. “Let’s stand together,” she said.

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