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In roller-coaster afternoon, N.M. indoor dining allowed to reopen, then ordered to close

State Supreme Court ultimately makes decision about restaurants
Monica Shultz, owner of the Chile Pod, stands in front of her restaurant July 11 after several blocks of Main Street opened after a reconstruction project. When the suspension of indoor dining services went into effect last week, local businesses scrambled to create outdoor dining areas.

FARMINGTON – For a short window of time Monday afternoon, restaurants and breweries were allowed to operate indoor dining in New Mexico before the state Supreme Court ordered it closed again.

On Monday, a New Mexico judge issued an order to temporarily halt Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s ban on indoor dining in restaurants and breweries.

Judge Raymond L. Romero, a state district judge in Carlsbad, issued a restraining order against Lujan Grisham’s administration from enforcing the public health order against dine-in services for the next 10 days. A hearing on the case is scheduled to be held July 30.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association and several New Mexico restaurants filed a lawsuit last week challenging Lujan Grisham’s July 13 order. Lujan Grisham’s order suspended dine-in services because of a rise in coronavirus cases but allowed restaurants and breweries to continue to provide outdoor dining at 50% capacity, delivery and curbside pickup.

In his ruling, Romero said the state had not responded to the lawsuit brought by the New Mexico Restaurant Association by the 11 a.m. Monday deadline.

In response, the governor’s administration filed an emergency motion for a “Stay of Restraining Order” in the Supreme Court shortly after the ruling Monday to maintain the public health order.

The state Supreme Court handed down its decision a few hours after the judge’s ruling granting the stay and ordering the governor, the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the other restaurants in the lawsuit to submit their arguments by next week.

In a statement after the Supreme Court’s ruling, Lujan Grisham said she was grateful for the court’s quick action and her administration was committed to providing a consistent and fair response to the pandemic.

“I appreciate the high court’s recognition of the importance of consistent application and enforcement and the opportunity to bolster our case that high-contact indoor environments where face-coverings cannot be worn present an untenable risk given the incredible danger of COVID-19 at the moment,” she said.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association said in a public statement that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not address the concerns in its lawsuit. The association accused the governor’s administration of not providing a response in the District Court and playing “a game to move this into the Supreme Court costing restaurants vital resources, regardless of the damages to businesses and families.”

The association said its restaurants would comply with the health order and asked the governor to “engage in a dialogue with our industry to address the pandemic in a way that does not ruin businesses.”

The district judge’s ruling allowed restaurants and breweries to briefly return to operation Monday under the public health order in effect before the July 13 order. Under that previous order, indoor dining services are limited to 50% capacity for restaurants and breweries.

Some businesses in Farmington had already jumped to take advantage of the judge’s restraining order and announced they were reopening dine-in services. Both Si Señor Restaurant and Boons Family Thai BBQ announced via social media they would open their dining rooms at 50% capacity and with a mask requirement.

When the suspension of indoor dining services went into effect last week, local businesses scrambled to create outdoor dining areas. The city of Farmington donated 33 canopies to local businesses to provide shade, and other restaurants looked for creative solutions to draw customers in, like a drive-in parking lot movie theater.

Other businesses decided to keep their indoor dining services open despite the order.

Three Farmington businesses had food service permits suspended by the New Mexico Environment Department for violating the public health order last week. Two of Los Hermanitos locations and TJ’s Diner were cited by the department for continuing to offer dine-in service.

Lujan Grisham’s July 13 order closing indoor dining came as coronavirus cases were on the rise again in New Mexico and the neighboring states of Arizona and Texas.


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