RALEIGH — The owners of a popular Greenville area club are suing Gov. Roy Cooper over his executive orders that they allege discriminate against private clubs.
On Dec. 21, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against Cooper on behalf of Crystal and Kenneth Waldron and their business, Club 519. The complaint seeks relief from Cooper’s “arbitrary treatment of bars as unconstitutional under the state and federal constitutions.”
The Waldron’s need to reopen the club soon or they will be forced to close their doors forever, which also means losing their primary source of income. The club has been around for more than 18 years and is popular with residents in the area.
The suit is seeking an injunction that would allow for private bars to open under the same rules and safety precautions as other bars across the state are currently operating under.
Currently, bars are restricted to outdoor service only and at 30% capacity of that outdoor seating. Club 519 does not have outdoor space and has not been able to open at all. Meanwhile, under the governor’s orders, other bars such as those located in restaurants or hotels, and venues like bottle shops, breweries, distilleries, and wineries, can operate at 50 percent capacity both indoors and outdoors.
Jessica Thompson, one of the Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys handling the case, tells North State Journal that the suit was filed for two reasons, but both were about money. She said one reason was the club owners had exhausted the PPP funds they were able to secure as well as GoFundMe money that the community fundraised to help cover expenses.
“The other thing is they did not have the money to hire an attorney to challenge these orders,” said Thompson. “They wanted to challenge, and they just didn’t have the funds. At Pacific Legal, we are a non-profit public interest law firm and so we represent our clients free of charge.”
Thompson said she believes they have a strong constitutional challenge.
“It’s only the small class of private bars that remain closed under his [Gov. Cooper’s] orders,” said Thompson.
Thompson went on to point out that the governor has shown economic preferential treatment in his orders. Citing the suit, Thompson noted that in previous lawsuits challenging the governor’s orders, Cooper had submitted declarations from Wit Tuttell, Vice President of Tourism and Marketing for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Tuttell’s declaration essentially says that breweries contribute six times more to the state’s Gross Domestic Product (NC GDP) annually than a bar does.
‘In other words, Tuttell and Gov. Cooper consider these entities more valuable to the economy than they consider the owners and employees of private bars,” the lawsuit reads.
“That sort of economic favoritism is not an acceptable reason to close private bars and allow these other bars to open,” Thompson said. She later called the discriminatory treatment “salt in the wound.”
When asked if Club 519 were the only plaintiffs, Thompson says more clients were a possibility. She said that since they announced the filing of the lawsuit, they have heard from other bars in the state who have faced the same discriminatory treatment.
“We are hopeful that a ruling for Club 519 will benefit all private bars in North Carolina,” said Thompson, adding that they are also pursuing a separation of powers claims.
“It’s important that we follow the Constitution and that the General Assembly legislate a policy response to COVID-19,” Thompson said. “We are nine months into the state of emergency declared by Gov. Cooper and it’s time for the legislature to fulfill its constitutional duty to legislate a response and for the governor to work with the legislature to pass this law to respond to COVID-19.”
Thompson said a legislated response to COVID-19 is so important because the General Assembly represents all North Carolinians and “not just the people who have the governor’s ear.”
Read the complaint: Crystal Waldron and Club 519 v. Governor Roy A. Cooper