On March 16, 2020, Governor Walz issued a series of executive orders shutting down certain businesses throughout the state, including restaurants and bars. Many small businesses cannot afford to shut their doors. This raises the question – what if a business owner decides to ignore Governor Walz and just keeps their bar open? To understand the repercussions of such an action we first need to understand where the Governor gets the authority to make such an Order.
The Peacetime Emergency Provision
Generally speaking, in order for there to be a law, it must pass through the legislature and be signed by the Governor. Typically, the Governor does not have the authority to just issue directives on his own accord. The exception, however, is in times of emergency. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has been declared a “peacetime emergency,” the Governor may “make, amend, and rescind the necessary orders and rules to carry out the provisions” of Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 12. It is this chapter of law that allows the Governor both the authority to declare a peacetime emergency and to single handedly issue directives (Orders) to accomplish the goal of ending, mitigating, or managing the emergency.
Is there Criminal Liability to Defying the Order?
With the understanding that the Governor has the authority to issue these closures, we next need to turn to what the penalty could be if someone violates the Order. To make this determination, we need look no further than the same Chapter of the Minnesota Statutes. Minnesota Statute § 12.45 states:
“[A] person who willfully violates a provision of this chapter or a rule or order having the force and effect of law issued under authority of this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction must be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000, or by imprisonment for not more than 90 days.”
This means, that if a bar owner or a restaurant manager decides they want to stay open anyway, they could go to jail for up to 90 days. Presumably, the state could charge the owner for each day that the business remains open as well. This could lead a judge to issue consecutive sentences and keep the owner in custody for an extended period of time while also incurring increasing daily fines.
Good or Bad, It’s the Law
All in all, whether you believe shutting down bars and restaurants is a good idea or a bad one, it is the law of the land. Violations can be dealt with strictly. It is our advice to keep the public safe and try to weather the storm. If you are struggling financially, do what you can to cut expenses and look to the government for assistance programs. You can suggest to your employees that they may be able to apply for unemployment during this time as well.
Lastly, if you or a loved one didn’t heed the Governor’s order, make sure to consult with an attorney about your rights. Feel free to set up a virtual meeting with one of our attorneys here at Sieben Edmunds Miller.