News Story

County Clears Restaurant On COVID Violation, State Nails It For Missing A Later FAQ

Owner enters administrative law zone, where judge and prosecutor work for the same boss

A restaurant in the city of Plymouth was found by state administrators to have violated COVID-19 restrictions, despite a county inspector’s report stating the establishment had no violations.

The issue at the Plymouth ROC Restaurant was the fact it served people in an outside tent with four walls. The finding of a violation came during a hearing in December brought by the state Liquor Control Commission. The hearing was held before, in the words of one official document, a “duly authorized agent of the Commission,” Administrative Law Judge Michael J. St. John, an employee of the Department of Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, of which the commission is a part.

When the current round of statewide lockdowns was ordered on Nov. 15, there was confusion of just what constituted “outdoors” for many restaurants attempting to provide food service in outdoor tents.

The state clarified the initial order 23 days later with a specific definition of “outdoors,” which was included in a Frequently Asked Question section of a state website on Dec. 7.

The FAQ stated: ““Indoors’ means within a space that is fully or partially enclosed on the top, and fully or partially enclosed on two or more contiguous sides. Additionally, in a space that is fully or partially enclosed on the top, and fully or partially enclosed on two non-contiguous sides, any part of that space that is more than 8 feet from an open side is indoors.”

But the administrative law judge did not accept an argument that the definition was buried in an FAQ add-on to the order already in effect. He wrote, “One of the most well established maxims in law is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Although the November 15, 2020 Emergency Order did not define indoor dining, the FAQ section noted exactly what was required.”

The timeline that led to the administrative law case started on Dec. 3 ,when a Plymouth Police Department officer warned the restaurant it was in violation.

A Wayne County Health Department inspector performed an inspection on Dec. 11 and found no issues. The restaurant was told it was in compliance.

The city says, however, that it received complaints and performed additional inspections.

John Buzuvis, the director of community development for the city of Plymouth, observed the beer tent on Dec. 15 and Dec. 17. Buzuvis took photos of the beer tent at the instruction of Allen Cox, the police chief for the city of Plymouth.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.