Hoping to block enforcement of Gov. Janet Mills’ pandemic-related restrictions on Maine businesses, Sunday River Brewing Co. co-owner Rick Savage and three others filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court Tuesday asking a judge to intervene.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor by Augusta attorney Steve Smith, the suit claims that Mills “closed down Maine civil society, effectively placed 1.2 million people under house arrest,” took away the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people and interfered with interstate commerce.

The four named plaintiffs argued that Mills “unreasonably and unnecessarily” undermined their rights. Three of the four are also part of a suit filed by Smith on May 8 that slammed Mills for allegedly undermining small business in the state in her response to the coronavirus.

Tuesday’s 29-page suit asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment and prohibit the state from enforcing the executive orders Mills signed that forced many Maine businesses to close or scale back operations in a bid to slow the spread of the new disease.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, who could not be reached Tuesday, vowed to fight vigorously against the earlier suit. He insisted then the orders and plans by Mills “were carefully crafted” to protect Mainers’ health without violating constitutional rights.

Mills, a former state attorney general, pointed out during one of her radio addresses that every state had invoked emergency executive powers and most of them had issued “stay healthy at home” orders, prohibited large gatherings and restricted normal recreational and business activities to try to control COVID-19.

While she has pared back some of the restrictions in the weeks since they were issued, Mills has often cautioned that it has to be done carefully to try to avoid a secondary surge of a disease that has already killed more than 90,000 Americans.

 

Polls show most Americans, and most Mainers, endorse the steps she’s taken, which are generally in keeping with those imposed in other states. But there are people who are growing increasingly restive.

A ruling last week by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court that tossed out a Democratic governor’s shelter-in-place order spurred a number of angry Americans to file similar suits in state and federal courts across the land despite the fact that most states have begun to loosen restrictions first ordered in March and early April.

Savage, who got in hot water in Maine for refusing to keep his Bethel brew pub closed, has become a celebrity among the sliver of Mainers who are protesting vehemently against the governor’s public health orders.

Smith’s suit calls Mills’ orders unprecedented.

“For the first time in Maine’s history, the state is mass quarantining people who have no indication that they are or may become sick,” it said, adding that the order unlawfully interferes with rights guaranteed by the state constitution that include “enjoying life and liberty,” possessing property and “pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.”

Joining Savage in the suit are Mike Mercer, a security consultant; James Fahey, a wedding disc jockey; and Lindsey Crosby, a hair salon owner. All three live in Cumberland County.

The suit says that Mills’ original order was premised on the need to “flatten the curve” to prevent Maine’s health care institutions from being swamped with new patients. Now that the curve has been flattened, it alleges, the governor has left rules in place that violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

It complains as well that Mills’ order requiring people entering Maine to quarantine themselves for 14 days “regardless of whether they have any illness” violates the interstate commerce provision of the U.S. Constitution.

The suit argues the court should act swiftly because “an economic depression is predictable following the shutdown of civil society” as a result of Mills’ orders.

“Businesses around Maine are permanently closing because they cannot pay employees and vendors. More will be forced to permanently close the longer” the orders are in place, the suit alleges.

Smith’s firm, Lipman & Katz, said it has had “an astounding response” from people who want to fight what it called “this important challenge to the liberties of Mainers” by Mills, a first-term Democrat. The firm is still soliciting additional plaintiffs who have been adversely impacted by her orders, the partial economic shutdown that followed and the quarantine.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.