NYC restaurateurs proceed with lawsuit despite plans to reinstate some indoor dining

Photo courtesy of @StevenMatteo
New York City Council Minority Leader Steve Matteo stands with Assemblywoman Nicoe Malliotakis, Sen. Andrew Lanza and restaurant owners in front of a Staten Island courthouse to announce a class action lawsuit against the state and New York City. The plaintiffs want to allow at least 50 percent diner capacity while the state and city agreed to permit 25 percent capacity, beginning September 30.

Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move on Wednesday to partially reopen indoor dining in New York City, restaurateurs say they are moving forward with a planned lawsuit against the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio until they are allowed to serve 50 percent capacity.

Restaurant owners, and their allies in state and city government, say their lawsuit will move forward until they are treated the same as restaurants in other parts of the state and in nearby New Jersey.

On September 1,  Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) and City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo, stood with restaurant owners and their legal counsel and announced their intention to file a class action lawsuit against the Governor’s Office for keeping indoor dining closed and extending executive orders in New York City that banned or limited indoor dining.

“We have been told so often that science will guide the reopening of businesses in this state, but this apparently does not apply to indoor dining,” Matteo said. “Neither the mayor [nor] governor have provided one piece of data to explain why it is now safe to dine indoors in neighboring Westchester or Rockland counties, but dangerous to dine inside in the five boroughs of New York City.

“But if the mayor and governor continue to do nothing, the only way forward is through the courts.”

Nearly 64 percent of 1,042 restaurant owners from across the state believe they will close within six months without any government aid, according to a recent survey from the New York State Restaurant Association. 

Staten Island attorneys Mark Fonte and Louis Gelormino, along with Long Island attorney James Mermigis, have filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bocelli Ristorante and Joyce’s Tavern in Staten Island, and the Independent Restaurant Owners Association Rescue (IROAR). 

By September 1, more than 125 restaurants signed onto the lawsuit and can continue to register on the IROAR’s website.

A similar lawsuit was filed by Mermigis in late August, where the New York State Fitness Alliance, consisting of gym owners across the state, was created after gyms were barred from participating in the state’s Phase 3 reopening plan. Days later, Cuomo gave permission for their doors to open on Aug. 24 if rigorous health protocols were followed. By filing this lawsuit, attorneys for the restaurants hope for a similar outcome.

During a live broadcast on September 9, only one day after a rally in Staten Island featuring State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-South Shore), Malliotakis and Matteo, the governor announced that indoor dining may reopen on September 30 with 25 percent capacity after discussions with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.  

Under the reopening plan, temperature checks will be mandatory for every customer upon entry, and one member of each party must leave their phone number or email to assist in contact tracing efforts. Furthermore, no bar service will be available, and masks must be worn at all times unless seated at a table.

In addition to following restrictions closely, Gov. Cuomo believes that New Yorkers will work together for compliance and hold each other accountable. He has implemented an anonymous tip line — 855-904-5036 — that must be posted in restaurants for patrons to use and report violations and tip-off code enforcement inspectors, who otherwise have to check all 10,000 restaurants throughout the city.

“Depending on the egregiousness of the violation or repeated violations, you could lose your license,” Cuomo said. “We will reassess on November 1 to move to 50 percent capacity. It starts to get cold and outdoor dining is going to be less attractive to people, so we’ll just watch it and I will inform everyone of everything I know every day.”

“It is a collective decision, it is not like there is a back room anywhere here where we look at secret data,” he added. “Whatever I know, I tell New Yorkers, whatever factors I know, I tell New Yorkers. I really believe this is a collective process.”

Although Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio decided on a reopening plan, Malliotakis, along with the IROAR, have decided their decision does not reflect the needs of the restaurant industry.

“While we’re happy the city and state have acknowledged the plight of the restaurant industry, it’s not enough,” Malliotakis said in a press release on September 9. “We will continue to proceed with the lawsuit until New York City is granted the 50 percent capacity like every other municipality in New York state.”