Kuebler's Furniture in downtown Salem. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
A Salem furniture store is among nine businesses from across Oregon that has signed on to a federal lawsuit alleging state orders over the COVID-19 outbreak are a politically motivated, and unjustified “mass quarantining of healthy Americans.”
In March, Gov. Kate Brown issued a series of executive orders that prohibited large gatherings and shuttered bars, tattoo parlors, salons and other businesses. On Tuesday, Canby attorney Tyler Smith and James Buchal, a Portland-based attorney who serves as chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party, filed the lawsuit against Brown and Lillian Shirley, the state’s public health director.
According to the complaint, the orders violate the constitution’s prohibitions on seizing private property while depriving the business owners of their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. It asks the court to declare the governor’s orders “null and void” in addition to costs and fees.
DOCUMENT: Federal complaint.
Among the businesses is Kuebler's Furniture, Inc., located at 230 Chemeketa St N.E. in Salem.
In a court filing, owner Alan Kuebler said that he was given no advance notice of the governor’s order, had no chance to appeal and could reopen his business if restrictions are lifted.
“The closing of the store has been devastating, immediately bringing all revenues to a stop,” he said. “We had eleven employees, all of whom are now laid off.”
The governor, whose office didn’t respond to an email seeking comment, has begun a phased-in plan to reopen the state’s economy. On Friday. May 15, furniture stores, boutiques, art galleries and other retailers can reopen if they maintain social distancing requirements. Under the governor’s orders, retail and other stores have been allowed to stay open if they can maintain social distancing requirements.
The store’s owners didn’t respond to a phone call or Facebook message seeking comment. Buchal, who has previously represented Kuebler’s Furniture, said the governor’s plans could allow the store to open, resolving the issue. But he said that the many other businesses will remain shut.
The complaint challenges the rationale that the governor’s orders were needed to prevent overwhelming medical facilities with the goal of “flattening the curve.” COVID-19 infection rates in Oregon have been declining, which state officials point to as evidence that the orders are working.
“But there is no scientific evidence associating particular measures with particular reductions in the spread of the disease,” the complaint said.
The complaint suggests that up to half of all people who have COVID-19 infections show no symptoms and that the probability of dying from the disease “is substantially lower than the fatality rate of confirmed cases that is widely reported.” It also concludes that Oregon is well past its surge of cases and the orders are no longer necessary.
Brown extended her initial emergency order to July 6. The complaint alleges the decision by the Democratic governor is “to benefit the electoral prospects of the Governor's political party in the upcoming presidential election, and to advance that party's ideology of larger government programs, spending and control over Americans.”
Buchal said that the complaint isn’t meant to be political and is instead focused on protecting constitutional rights. He said it only becomes political when there’s disagreement over how those rights should be recognized.
In addition to Kuebler’s Furniture, the complaint includes Quins Bar in Ontario, the A Street Tavern in Vale, Why Not Bar & Grill in Yoncalla, Hood River Mixer Shop, Inc. Also included are Da Cielo LLC, a salon in Portland; Lotus House, a lingerie shop in Roseburg; Skin Tattoo LLC in Hood River and PDX Muscle in Beaverton.
A Hood River-based nonprofit named Open Our Oregon that seeks to help businesses in opposing the governor's orders is also a party to the complaint.
Last week, the Pacific Justice Institute filed a lawsuit against Brown challenging her orders on behalf of churches across the state. The lawsuit argues that her orders violate the state and federal constitutions. On Tuesday, Kevin Mannix, a Salem attorney long involved in Oregon politics, joined the lawsuit on behalf of business owners across the state.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.