State drops lawsuits against restaurants over pandemic protocols

Staff and wire report
A long exposure shows Route 30 traffic passing a busy Round the Clock Diner in Manchester Township, Saturday night, May 30, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Department of Health has dropped its legal action against more than 40 restaurants that were accused of defying state orders to close indoor dining and maintain social-distancing protocols.

The Health Department had filed two separate complaints alleging that restaurants were violating pandemic restrictions that Gov. Tom Wolf imposed in December in response to a winter surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The state had sought an order to shut down in-person dining, as well as damages.

No restaurants in York County were involved in the legal action, according to the Department of Health.

“I’m glad it turned out this way,” said Jim DeLisio, president of the York County Tavern Association. “But I’m not so sure the story’s over.”

While the lawsuits may have been dropped, DeLisio said, citations given to restaurants by the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement remain in effect.

More:State orders Dillsburg restaurant to close, citing COVID-19 violations

More:State orders York Twp. restaurant closed after COVID-19 inspection

More:State orders Sonnewald Natural Foods closed, citing COVID-19 violations

More:Round the Clock Diner becomes a symbol of anti-lockdown movement

Department officials said that most restaurants came into compliance and that the pandemic has since eased.

“The majority of restaurants have come into compliance with the Secretary of Health’s orders to protect their customers from the spread of COVID-19 within their communities,” said Health Department spokesperson Maggi Barton. She said that with the pandemic in retreat, nearly all of the state’s remaining restrictions are slated to be lifted on Memorial Day.

The Health Department petitioned Commonwealth Court last week to discontinue the matter, and the court granted the request on Tuesday.

At least five food establishments in York County were ordered by the state Department of Agriculture to close during the pandemic:

  • Round the Clock Diner's locations in Manchester Township and Springettsbury Township
  • Mamma's Pizza in Wellsville
  • Corner Stable in York Township
  • Sonnewald Natural Foods in North Codorus Township

However, it's unclear how many restaurants faced legal action. Whether the cases were referred to the Health Department and resulted in a lawsuit depended on if they continued to defy the state's orders.

The Health Department did not immediately respond to requests for a list of restaurants that had legal action against them dropped.

Under the department's COVID-19 enforcement guidelines, restaurants that continued to defy the order faced penalties of up to $10,000 per day.

“I think a lot of the restaurants that were in defiance of the governor's orders, and in some instances rightfully so, decided it’s better to comply in some form or fashion than go through the continual harassment and possible lawsuit,” DeLisio said.