BY: KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Restaurant owners in New York City have filed a $2 billion lawsuit against city and state officials as the hard-hit industry continues to call on lawmakers for a timeline and plan to reopen for indoor dining amid the pandemic.
The class-action suit filed Friday in Manhattan’s Supreme Court, led by Il Bacco in Queens, alleges that the state is violating the constitutional rights of the owners of over 150,000 New York City restaurants, ABC News New York City station WABC reported.
As other neighboring counties, cities and states have began allowing restaurants to welcome diners back inside, industry leaders like Andrew Rigie at the New York City Hospitality Alliance have demanded answers from government and said that legal action was not out of the question for his organization.
“It’s been nearly six months since New York City restaurants were mandated to shutdown indoor dining, and Mayor de Blasio still does not have a reopening plan, even though the rest of the state has been dining indoors since June,” Rigie told ABC News in a statement.
Hundreds of restaurants have joined the three-story Italian restaurant — which is located just under two blocks from the Nassau County border where customers can be seated indoors at 50% capacity — in the suit against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the office of the attorney general for “irreparable harm” to the food and beverage industry across the five boroughs.
As of Monday, 350 additional restaurant owners joined the lawsuit according to attorney James Mermigis, Gothamist reported.
“If a restaurant patron travels five hundred feet east or one city block east from [Il Bacco], patrons are in Nassau County and can enjoy indoor dining in an air conditioned room,” the suit states. “According to Governor Cuomo, it is dangerous to eat at [Il Bacco] in Little Neck, Queens, but it is safe to dine indoors a few hundred feet east.”
New York City is currently the only city in the entire state without any form of indoor dining. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced earlier this week that restaurants will resume indoor service at 25% capacity on Friday with other COVID-19 safety measures, like facial coverings and social distancing in place.
Other concerns cited in the suit included “the small footprint many of these city restaurants occupy, and fears that authorities won’t be able to enforce capacity limits,” WABC said.
In a press conference on Wednesday, de Blasio offered only a vague idea that an announcement could come this month.
“I think it’s our responsibility to give them as clear an answer in the month of September as possible, of where we are going,” the mayor said. “If there can be a timeline, if there can be a set of standards for reopening, we need to decide that in the next few weeks and announce it, whether it is good news or bad news.”
Cuomo said that there can’t be a timetable to reopen indoor dining without the ability to enforce rules.
“My opinion is restaurants should open. The question is how?” he said Thursday.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement in support of restaurants to resume indoor dining with proper safety precautions.
“It’s time to allow indoor dining in New York City with reduced capacity and clear guidance to ensure social distancing and safety,” he said. “This is crucial for restaurant owners, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism. Summer is winding down, and they need to begin planning for the colder months.”
Johnson also said the city will continue to monitor COVID-19 rates adding that the health and well-being of the industry’s workers “are imperative to our city.”
“The rest of the state has been allowed to reopen their restaurants for indoor dining, and New Jersey is allowing indoor dining come Friday. Now is the time to allow it in New York City. Our restaurants and our City’s economy can’t wait,” he said.
Cuomo said he plans to speak with Johnson about the needs in order to allow indoor dining.
“If New York City can say this many police can be put on a task force to monitor the compliance, that’s something we can discuss. I’m going to say to the restaurant association, tell me how we are going to enforce it and how we are going to monitor compliance because the facts on how we will monitor bars are damning,” Cuomo said. “The plan is only as good as your ability to enforce. Right now, we have no ability to enforce it.”
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