Bar owner files class-action lawsuit over Iowa’s COVID-19 limits on business activity

A Dallas County bar is seeking class action status for a lawsuit challenging the governor's COVID-19 mitigation restrictions. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A Dallas County tavern owner is seeking class-action status for a lawsuit that claims the governor’s pandemic-related restrictions on business activity are violating the Iowa Constitution.

Attorneys at the Brick-Gentry law firm of Des Moines and the Gossett & Gossett law firm of Hollywood, Florida, filed the lawsuit in Dallas County District Court on behalf of Amy Culp, owner of the Mudders tavern in Minburn, and all other Iowans in a similar position. The lawsuit names Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health as defendants and seeks class-action status.

The complaint notes that on March 9, Reynolds proclaimed a state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently issued more than 20 proclamations restricting various businesses from operating in Iowa.

Although similar orders have been issued by the governors of all 50 states, the lawsuit alleges Reynolds’ proclamations violate provisions of the Iowa Constitution, including those that say all men and women have the right of “pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.”

The lawsuit also alleges Reynolds’ orders violate Culp’s right to due process and equal protection, and that the state’s failure to provide business owners with notice of the orders is “patently unreasonable.”

In seeking class-action status, attorneys for Culp argue that the potential number of plaintiffs in the case are numerous and there is a question of law common to the entire class.

The state has yet to file a response to the lawsuit, and a judge has yet to rule on the request for class-action status.

Culp declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, saying she was reluctant to speak out “with all this bullcrap going on.”

State records indicate that earlier this year Mudders was awarded a $10,000 grant through the Iowa Business Disruption Relief program, which makes financial assistance available to taverns, breweries, pubs, distilleries and other similar establishments that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 223,000 Iowans have contracted the coronavirus and more than 2,300 Iowans have died.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.