Judge orders Rae's Cafe in Blue Springs closed
Rae's Cafe must close until it gets a food permit, a Jackson County judge ruled.
In a ruling issued Thursday afternoon, Circuit Judge Jennifer Phillips upheld the county's restraining order against the Blue Springs diner. Owner Amanda Wohletz had continued to operate Rae’s even after county officials revoked its permit three weeks ago and ordered closed for continued violations of the county's mask mandate.
Phillips' ruling says Wohletz and Rae's Cafe “shall cease operations as a restaurant and food service provider until a valid food permit is obtained.”
The county's order that masks be worn in public places currently runs through Oct. 7. In her ruling, Judge Phillips wrote the health order was “lawfully created and enforced” and that despite warnings, citations, having the food permit revoked and the county Health Department ordering its closure, “the defendants continued to operate the restaurant … in violation of the health order.”
Refusing to follow the order, the judge wrote, “endangers the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
The county revoked the restaurant’s food permit Sept. 3, but the diner stayed open as a “private club,” charging a $1 membership fee and claiming it was exempt from the health order. Wohletz had claimed medical exemptions for her staff with regard to masks, but the county’s environmental health administrator, Deb Sees, testified in a hearing Thursday that neither the private club or medical exemption claim came up until after the permit was revoked.
The judge did not buy either argument from the diner.
Claiming to be a private club, Phillips wrote, “even if taken as true, does not exempt the restaurant from the requirement of operating with a food permit,” The medical exemption defense can be presented in trying to get the food permit reinstated, she said.
Attorneys for the county and Health Director Bridgette Shaffer said the “membership fee” was akin to a bar cover charge – which doesn't make it a private club – and argued the county had to pursue the temporary restraining order to be able to enforce its own public health order.
John Reeves, attorney for Wohletz, had filed a counterpetition, arguing the mask mandate was “unconstitutionally created” and the county's effort to enforce was “unlawful, nonsensical and is only to punish those who speak out against arbitrary and capricious 'mandates.'” He asked for the restraining order to end and for the county to reinstate the food permit. Judge Phillips denied that request for a temporary restraining order, since she'd found the health order to be lawful.
In a press release, Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. said he respected and appreciated the court's ruling.
“While we are pleased with the outcome, it is unfortunate that we had to pursue legal action,” White said, “but today, the Court affirmed that doing so was our only option to ensure our public health order is followed. We remain committed to taking the actions needed to protect the health and safety of our community during this difficult and challenging time.”