Midway Venture LLC v. County of San Diego, 012221 CAAPP4-1, D078375

Docket NºD078375
Opinion JudgeGUERRERO, J.
Party NameMIDWAY VENTURE LLC et al., Plaintiffs, Cross-defendants, and Respondents, v. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO et al., Defendants and Appellants GAVIN NEWSOM, as Governor, etc., et al., Defendants, Cross-complainants, and Appellants.
AttorneyThomas E. Montgomery, County Counsel, and Jeffrey P. Michalowski, Deputy County Counsel, for Defendants and Appellants. Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak, Helen Holmes Peak and Gregory L. Lusitana, for the City of San Marcos as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants. Xavier Becerra, ...
Judge PanelWE CONCUR: HALLER, Acting P. J., IRION, J.
Case DateJanuary 22, 2021
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals

MIDWAY VENTURE LLC et al., Plaintiffs, Cross-defendants, and Respondents,

v.

COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO et al., Defendants and Appellants

GAVIN NEWSOM, as Governor, etc., et al., Defendants, Cross-complainants, and Appellants.

D078375

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

January 22, 2021

APPEALS from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2020- 00038194-CU-CR-CTL, Joel R. Wohlfeil, Judge. Reversed with directions.

Thomas E. Montgomery, County Counsel, and Jeffrey P. Michalowski, Deputy County Counsel, for Defendants and Appellants.

Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak, Helen Holmes Peak and Gregory L. Lusitana, for the City of San Marcos as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Thomas S. Patterson, Assistant Attorney General, Anthony R. Hakl, Kristin A. Liska and Patty Li, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendants, Cross-complainants, and Appellants.

Niddrie Addams Fuller Singh, Victoria E. Fuller, Rupa G. Singh; Vivoli Saccuzzo, Jason P. Saccuzzo; Law Office of Steve Hoffman and Steve Hoffman, for Plaintiffs, Cross-defendants, and Respondents.

Wright, L'Estrange & Ergastolo, Robert C. Wright and Andrew E. Schouten, for the Food & Beverage Association of San Diego County, Inc. as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs, Cross-defendants, and Respondents.

Caldarelli Hejmanowski Page & Leer LLP, Marisa Janine-Page; Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, Bruno Katz, for 640 Tenth, LP d/b/a/ Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop; O'Frank, LLC d/b/a Home & Away Encinitas; Fit Athletic Club-San Diego, LLC; and Crossfit East Village Corporation d/b/a/ Bear Republic, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs, Cross-defendants, and Respondents.

GUERRERO, J.

In this appeal, we consider a preliminary injunction prohibiting the County of San Diego, its public health officer Wilma J. Wooten, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and Governor Gavin Newsom from enforcing COVID-19-related public health restrictions against any business offering restaurant service in San Diego County, subject to safety protocols. Despite the focus of the injunction-and the interest it generated from third parties seeking to provide amicus briefs-this lawsuit was never about restaurant restrictions or the ability to dine outdoors in San Diego County. It was brought by two San Diego businesses that offer live nude adult entertainment as well as restaurant service.1 They claimed that State and County restrictions on live entertainment violated their First Amendment right to freedom of expression. They were not seeking to open their restaurants without the live entertainment component of their businesses.

The State and County eventually loosened their restrictions on live entertainment, but as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, they imposed new restrictions on restaurants. These new restaurant restrictions severely curtailed the adult entertainment businesses' operations. But these new restrictions were unrelated to live entertainment or the First Amendment.

Despite the narrow scope of the issues presented, the trial court granted expansive relief when it issued the injunction challenged here. It went beyond the claims of the adult entertainment businesses and invalidated restrictions on restaurants-even though such relief had never been requested or addressed by the parties.

It is a fundamental aspect of procedural due process that, before relief can be granted against a party, the party must have notice of such relief and an opportunity to be heard. Because restaurant restrictions were never part of the adult entertainment businesses' claims, the State and County had no notice or opportunity to address them. The trial court therefore erred by enjoining the State and County from enforcing COVID-19-related public health restrictions on restaurants.

Because the procedure used by the trial court was improper, the trial court's actions render us unable to address the substance of this new challenge to restaurant restrictions. On remand, in the trial court, the adult entertainment businesses may seek to amend their claims to address restaurant restrictions. We express no opinion on the subject.

We have received several amicus briefs, as noted above, and we have considered each party's submission. We do not separately address these submissions, however, because they either duplicate arguments made by the parties to this appeal, or they seek to expand the issues before this court and are therefore irrelevant. We acknowledge the concerns raised by these parties, but this appeal is not the proper mechanism to address these concerns given the limited issues before us.

The claims properly before the trial court, and this court, are based on the First Amendment. It is well-settled that the adult entertainment businesses have a First Amendment right to provide live entertainment. But business restrictions imposed for other purposes, unrelated to the suppression of expression, are not invalid simply because they incidentally burden expressive conduct. The operations of the adult entertainment businesses are currently limited because of restaurant restrictions. Those restaurant restrictions are unrelated to the suppression of speech and therefore do not run afoul of the First Amendment. Absent a First Amendment concern or other reason for heightened scrutiny, the restrictions are valid if they are rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. Because the adult entertainment businesses' claims were framed under the First Amendment, they never argued in the trial court that the restaurant restrictions did not meet this low standard. We therefore have no occasion to address such an argument regarding restaurant restrictions for the first time on appeal.

To the extent the adult entertainment businesses continue to challenge limitations on live entertainment (as opposed to restaurant restrictions), we conclude the limitations are valid, content-neutral restrictions on expressive conduct. Under well-established law, they do not run afoul of the First Amendment.

Finally, even setting aside the defects noted above, the trial court erred by issuing the injunction because it is unreasonably vague. The injunction generally prohibits the State and County from enforcing public health orders against the adult entertainment businesses and other restaurants, but it allows the enforcement of “protocols that are no greater than is essential to further Defendants' response to control the spread of COVID.” The injunction does not explain which protocols are “essential, ” and the record provides no guidance on this important question. Where, as here, an injunction does not provide adequate notice of its scope, it cannot be enforced.

In sum, the trial court erred by entering an overbroad injunction that was unsupported by the law and which violated the due process rights of the State and County. We therefore reverse.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic do not need to be described in detail here. In the United States, hundreds of thousands are confirmed dead, including tens of thousands of Californians. Hundreds more Californians die each day. Our hospitals and intensive care units are overwhelmed, threatening even routine medical care. It is the worst American public health crisis in a century.

Restrictions imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19 have caused great personal and economic suffering as well. Individuals cannot travel or meet with friends and loved ones. Businesses have closed or drastically curtailed their operations. Employees have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. State and local governments face declining revenue even as demands for their services increase.

Balancing these risks and harms in the midst of a deadly pandemic is exceedingly difficult. It is a responsibility primarily entrusted to our elected officials, who are ultimately accountable to the public. It is our role to determine the legal and constitutional limits on their authority-but in so doing, we are constrained by the issues properly before this court.

The disease known as COVID-19 is caused by a previously-unknown virus, SARS-CoV-2. Evidence submitted to the trial court, in the form of a declaration from a state epidemiology and infectious disease expert, shows that the virus's most common mode of transmission is person-to-person, “through respiratory particles such as those that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes or projects his or her voice through speaking, singing, and other vocalization. These particles can land in the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby or possibly can be inhaled into their lungs.” Additionally, “[s]ome evidence exists that [the virus] might also be spread through aerosol transmission, that is, through smaller particles (of less than 5 microns) emitting from an infected person... that can travel farther than respiratory droplets.”

The virus can be transmitted even by individuals who do not show symptoms. “The fact that [the virus] can be spread by individuals who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic is one of the aspects of the COVID-19 that makes it difficult to control. Individuals without symptoms are generally unaware they are infected and are thus less likely to be taking steps to avoid transmission of the virus. Therefore, individuals who themselves may have been unknowingly infected by others can themselves become unknowing transmitters of the virus.”

When a person is exposed to the virus, the likelihood they will become infected depends in part on the amount of virus they encounter. “Therefore, it is important to take steps to limit interactions...

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