OLYMPIA — A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging Gov. Jay Inslee’s use of emergency powers to impose restrictions on business to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
In early June, Chelan County’s Slidewaters water park sued Inslee and the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), according to a copy of the decision in the United States District Court of Eastern Washington.
The park was represented by the conservative Freedom Foundation — a regular opponent of Inslee’s — which on Wednesday said it would appeal the decision.
The lawsuit argued, among other things, that Inslee didn’t have the authority to impose the emergency order, according to a copy of the court ruling. It argued that the global pandemic was not considered an emergency for which Inslee could issue an emergency proclamation.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs argued that L&I didn’t have the authority to issue an emergency rule related to Inslee’s order. That L&I rule barred employers from letting their employees work where business had been stopped by the coronavirus restrictions.
But in a decision this week, Judge Thomas Rice rejected those arguments, denying and dismissing a request for an injunction to allow the water park to begin operating.
“The plain meaning of the governor’s statutory authority to proclaim a state of emergency in the event of a ‘public disorder’ clearly encompasses an outbreak of pandemic disease,” wrote Rice, referring to Inslee’s authority.
The judge also wrote that the water park’s argument against L&I cited no legal authority. The business’s desire for the state agency to use its power in a different way did not establish a violation of the agency’s rulemaking authority, he wrote.
“I would like to thank the Attorney General’s Office for all of their work on this case,” Inslee said in prepared remarks. “This unequivocal ruling on the merits was made possible by their efforts.”
In a statement, Ashley Varner, vice president of communications with the Freedom Foundation, said the court in its ruling gave “dictatorial powers” to Inslee.
“Today, we filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, as we believe the constitutional and statutory issues of this case are as clear now as they were when we filed the suit,” Varner wrote in prepared remarks. “The Court was willing to give dictatorial powers to the Governor, at the expense of the rights of Washington citizens.”
“The Freedom Foundation stands by our clients’ rights to operate their business in a safe manner, and the local health department deemed their re-opening plan was sound (before the state government got involved),” she added.
The decision comes as cases of COVID-19 are now increasing across much of Central and Eastern Washington. Chelan County has reported 611 cases of the virus, according to the state Department of Health. Roughly half of those cases have been reported in the past three weeks.
Rice also remanded a counterclaim by the state against the water park to Chelan County Superior Court. There, the state will seek a finding that the park has violated Inslee’s proclamation, an order to stop it from operating, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
The state will also seek attorney fees and costs.