On March 26, 2020, Michelin-rated Napa Valley restaurants, French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro, and their celebrity chef, Thomas Keller, filed the second known
coronavirus-related declaratory judgment (DJ) lawsuit by a restaurant. The restaurants filed their DJ against Hartford Fire Insurance Company just seven days after Napa County issued a Shelter at Home Order.1 Chef Keller’s suit comes on the heels of the first such suit by a restaurant seeking to recover business income losses, filed by iconic New Orleans French Quarter restaurant Oceana Grill2 on March 17, just four days after the Louisiana governor issued an order prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people.
As local governments seek to protect their citizens and prevent an onslaught of cases in area hospitals, they are issuing various “stay home,” “shelter at home,” and similar orders to force social distancing and to help flatten the curve of the growth in COVID-19 cases. Restaurants nationwide are especially hard hit by these orders, as many of these orders contain size limitations on gatherings, which have required that restaurants and bars limit capacity (as in the March 13th Louisiana order). Other such orders require non-essential businesses to “cease all activities in the County” (as in the Napa County Shelter at Home order). The Napa County order does not exempt restaurants as “essential businesses,” except when providing food for take-out or delivery. Other orders, still, directly address restaurants and require them to cease allowing public consumption of food and beverages (as in the subsequent, March 17th Louisiana order).
Reprinted courtesy of Jeffrey J. Vita, Saxe Doernberger & Vita, P.C. and Melanie A. McDonald, Saxe Doernberger & Vita, P.C.
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