Attorney General's office to hold accountable establishments openly violating Executive Order 20-99
December 17, 2020
December 16, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced tonight that his office will hold accountable establishments that are serving food and beverages on premises today in open violation of Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-99. Attorney General Ellison issued the following statement:
“My job and my duty is to protect Minnesotans. People like to ask, what is the Attorney General going to do? What they should be asking is, what is coronavirus going to do? Coronavirus is deadly and it’s continuing to spread: it doesn’t care who you are or where you live, where you work or where you let off steam. You’re not immune from it and your loved ones aren’t either. No one is.
“Our approach from the start has been to win voluntary compliance, and in almost all cases, we’ve been able to do so. To those few businesses that are choosing to openly violate the executive order, I say this is the wrong way to go. I don’t enjoy using the enforcement tools I have, but I will use them to hold violators accountable and keep Minnesotans safe.
“I also want to say to the vast majority of Minnesota businesses that are making sacrifices to comply with the law and keep their customers, employees, and communities safe that I see you and I thank you. You deserve our gratitude. You do not deserve unfair competition from those who are not doing their part.”
Verifying compliance and investigating
Of a list of approximately 150 establishments supposedly open today in violation of Executive Order 20-99, approximately 40 percent can already legally operate, do not in fact intend to violate the executive order, or are anonymous. Of the remaining number, approximately 60 are bars and restaurants. Of those, approximately 20 have represented to the Attorney General’s office that they are in fact complying with the executive order and are not open for on-premises service. The Attorney General’s office is still ascertaining the intentions of or investigating the remainder. In only a small handful of instances thus far has the Attorney General’s office determined that an establishment is openly or defiantly violating Executive Order 20-99.
Attorney General Ellison’s office is working closely with state agencies and local law enforcement to gather evidence of violations of the executive order and will actively pursue enforcement actions where violations have taken place.
Enforcement tools and authority
Earlier today, Attorney General Ellison’s office — along with its partners in the Minnesota Departments of Health, Labor and Industry, and Public Safety — released a list of enforcement tools that they have available and in some cases have already used to obtain compliance with Executive Order 20-99.
In the two previous lawsuits that Attorney General Ellison’s office has filed against businesses that were openly violating Executive Order 20-99, Attorney General Ellison’s office has asked the court to:
• Declare that defendants’ actions constitute violations of Executive Order 20-99;
• Stop anyone associated with these establishments from violating or threatening to violate the executive order;
• Award restitution, disgorgement, or damages to the State;
• Impose civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation or threatened violation of the executive order;
• Award the State its costs; and
• Impose any other relief the court finds just.
Executive Order 20-99 grants enforcement authority to the Attorney General’s office. When approved by the Executive Council, of which Attorney General Ellison is a member, the Governor’s executive orders have the force and effect of law during the peacetime emergency.
To date, courts have granted the Attorney General’s motions for temporary restraining orders or injunctions against businesses violating executive orders each time the office has sought one.
The Governor’s authority to issue the executive orders has been repeatedly upheld in court. Fourteen cases have been filed in state or federal court challenging one or more executive orders, and three proposed petitions to recall Governor Walz were submitted. To date, the Attorney General’s office has successfully opposed every motion for emergency injunctive relief, won every motion to dismiss, and obtained the dismissal of all three proposed recall petitions. This work has ensured that the Governor’s emergency executive orders remain valid and enforceable.