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Lawsuit alleges Gov. Lee didn't have authority to issue COVID-19 emergency orders

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Posted at 10:46 AM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-09 19:47:13-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Davidson County judge is hearing arguments on a lawsuit that alleges Gov. Bill Lee did not have the authority to issue his emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 crisis or allow county mayors to impose their own restrictions.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of several of the city's transpotainment operators was heard Monday morning in chancery court. The lawsuit alleges that only the legislature can impose restrictions, such as limiting the number of people in bars/restaurants and on transpotainment vehicles.

Nashville attorneys Gary Blackburn and Bryant Kroll later filed a response after attorneys for Metro Nashville and Gov. Lee filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

According to the response, “no provision of the Tennessee Constitution permits the legislature to delegate its law-making powers to the Governor," and “plaintiffs…. are left to wonder whether the continuation of their businesses will be criminal or not criminal. This utter lack of certainty, which is of constitutional importance, is a product of the complete void of legislation oversight over the executive orders of the Governor and some mayors who may abuse the authority delegated to them with impunity.”

Blackburn says although his office understands the gravity of the pandemic, his clients believe the previous health orders by Metro Public Health singled out the transpotainment industry with the citations written once Gov. Lee declared a public health emergency.

Attorney Allison Bussell for Metro Nashville says not only is it unreasonable, but it’s downright dangerous to entertain lawsuits like these when we’re talking about a public health emergency still going on.

For one thing, the public health order that limited the transpotainment industry has long expired, so many of the arguments no longer apply now that these businesses are operating as normal.

She says the public health orders were always meant to be temporary solutions, but they were always solutions backed by experts working to stop the spread of COVID-19.

One case cited several times in opening statements was Jacobson v. Massachusetts where the US Supreme Court upheld a law allowing the state of Massachusetts to require residents to be vaccinated against smallpox with limited exceptions.

“In that case the court noted that a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of it’s members,” Bussell said.

To suggest that these transpotainment businesses were targeted because some were cited and others weren’t, she says does not tell the full story.

“All the records show is that the city wanted to address the public health danger created by their businesses just as it had with other businesses like bars, and other entertainment venues in which large groups of people were crowding,” Bussell said.

Currently, under Nashville's Phase Three guidelines, transpotainment vehicles can operate at 50% capacity or a maximum of 15 people.

Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal says she will review all arguments and have a ruling “as soon as possible,” which attorneys say could be until the end of the month.