O’Dowd’s sues KCMO Mayor Lucas over emergency orders

Posted at 4:25 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 17:25:35-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — O’Dowd’s Gastrobar said in a court filing Jan. 28 that it’s unable to generate enough revenue to meet operating expenses because of Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas’ emergency health orders.

The Irish-themed Country Club Plaza bar and restaurant sued Lucas in Jackson County Circuit Court last week, arguing that the restrictions in place — most notably a midnight closing time and social distancing requirements — have left O’Dowd’s unable to meet financial obligations for rent, utilities, payroll and vendor payments among other expenses.

The lawsuit claims that Lucas exceeded his authority in issuing such an order, according to a Petition for Writ of Prohibition filed on behalf of O’Dowd’s.

“These unilateral, dictatorial orders violate the fundamental democratic norms established in our society,” according to the court filing prepared by Michael J. Gunter, who represents O’Dowd’s.

Lucas’ office called the latest lawsuit challenging his orders “without merit” and said such orders aren’t issued lightly.

“The O’Dowd’s lawsuit is without merit under Missouri law just like the suits filed against us before. As it has been since the onset of this pandemic, our primary objective is to save lives," Lucas said in a statement. "The City has crafted each set of COVID guidelines based on clear, data-driven advice from health and scientific leaders from the White House and CDC down to our Health Department."

“Due to our COVID guidelines to protect those most vulnerable in our community, and to many making responsible decisions—wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, and practicing basic hygiene—we have seen a steady decline in COVID-19 cases over the past many weeks," Lucas said. "Our goal is to see a continued decline in cases and more vaccines getting into Kansas Citians’ arms, so we can slowly and responsibly get to our new normal.

“As I have said many times, mayors take no pleasure in imposing mandates, but we are in the most extraordinary of circumstances, and we sure as hell aren’t backing down or changing course due to fear of a lawsuit filed by the same lawyer who couldn’t bother to spell my name right in the last lawsuit he filed against me over our COVID guidelines.”

The city shut down O’Dowd’s in October — several weeks or months before the emergency orders it is now challenging in court — for noncompliance with prior health orders.

O’Dowd’s reopened in early November, but the restaurant announced a month later that it was closing until at least the spring after Lucas issued new orders Nov. 16, imposing a 10 p.m. closing time.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted Lucas’ emergency orders in the interest of public health, O’Dowd’s argues that “large, publicly traded companies, such as casinos,” received preferential treatment in being allowed to remain open and that unequal access to operating capital gave such companies an advantage over small businesses.

The lawsuit singled out casinos and “full service convenience stores such as QuikTrip,” which are allowed to operate — including food and liquor sales — past midnight.

O’Dowd’s “believes that Covid-19 is a serious situation but feels it is being singled out for restrictions while other businesses, such as casinos, are allowed to remain open all night long,” the 14-page lawsuit said.

O’Dowd’s sued Lucas over his emergency health orders from November and January, which keep in place restrictions on some businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit alleges “unequal enforcement” of the Lucas’ emergency order from November as well as the extension signed in mid-January, which eased those restrictions and allowed bars and restaurants to remain open until midnight.

Still, O’Dowd’s said the relaxed order isn’t sufficient and that it “will still not be able to earn enough revenue to remain open due to extraordinary loss of revenue already incurred,” according to the lawsuit.

The O’Dowd’s lawsuit also takes exception to Union Station’s “Home for the Holidays Walk Thru Village,” which it claims didn’t enforce social-distancing mandates.

The lawsuit contends that Lucas “has cited no evidence that the public is more likely to contract Covid-19 at KCMO restaurants and bars at any time day or night than at a crowded casino or crowded Union Station gathering.”

Furthermore, the lawsuit asks the judge to block Lucas’ emergency orders unless KCMO can prove bars and restaurants in the city subject to the order have led to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the community.

O’Dowd’s has a 3 a.m. liquor license for which it pays extra to KCMO and the state of Missouri for the ability to serve alcohol later than other establishments.

The Blue Line filed a similar lawsuit in December, but no temporary restraining order was granted in the case. There’s no court date scheduled for a subsequent hearing in the case.

Gunter also represents The Blue Line in its lawsuit against KCMO and Jackson County.