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Martin County attorney suing state on behalf of at least half-dozen bar owners who closed due to COVID-19 restrictions

'We believe the shutdown is arbitrary and singles out bar owners in a discriminatory fashion'
Posted at 10:27 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 00:00:28-04

STUART, Fla. — A Treasure Coast attorney is filing lawsuits for at least half a dozen bars that have been impacted by the state's COVID-19 restrictions on alcohol sales.

Attorney Travis R. Walker said he is representing the bars for free.

"We believe the shutdown is arbitrary and singles out bar owners in a discriminatory fashion," Walker said. "This is no longer going to be acceptable to these business owners."

Walker said local bars are losing potentially thousands of dollars each day that they can't sell alcohol.

Friday, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation suspended on-premises consumption of alcohol at bars statewide.

Bars can continue to serve alcohol in sealed containers for consumption offsite. Restaurants can still serve alcohol, so long as less than 50% of their revenue comes from alcohol sales.

The lawsuits will be filed against the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Walker argues the agency is overstepping.

"This is the kind of case we go to law school for, where the little guy is getting beat down," Walker said.

Some of the lawsuits could be worth six or even seven figures depending on the losses the businesses experience, Walker believes. There have been weeks of lost income, lost tips and inventory that has gone to waste as bars have had to close twice during the coronavirus pandemic.

RELATED: Bar, restaurant owners consider taking legal action over alcohol sale restrictions

"I think the government in their good intent is trying to protect citizens, but they're doing it in an arbitrary way and they're doing it in a knee-jerk reaction," Walker argued.

He does not feel there is evidence strong enough to support that bars are spreading COVID-19 more than any other business or activity.

"There are just as many people at protests or at the beach," Walker said. "There are all of these different places people are congregating and not doing social distancing, yet the bars are the ones who are having to pay."

Gov. Ron DeSantis said cases in Florida are increasing among the younger generations, which DeSantis said could be the result of too many bars statewide not following social distancing guidelines.

"Do we believe there's police power for the state? Sure," Walker said. "But you can't do it arbitrarily and you can't close down businesses just because you want to and you have a stigma against bars."

Walker is currently drafting the lawsuits and intends to file them by the end of the week.