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The owner of a Bethel restaurant who was ordered not to reopen after he defied the governor’s shutdown order has joined a federal lawsuit against Gov. Janet Mills.
Rick Savage, who owns Sunday River Brewing Co., was added Tuesday as a plaintiff in a court complaint filed in Bangor that is seeking class-action status.
If granted, it means businesses all over the state could join the lawsuit to prevent the governor’s shutdown from being enforced.
Augusta attorney Stephen Smith said Tuesday that “Mainers’ interest in this suit is overwhelming.”
“Mainers, including business owners, employees and customers, are being injured in a disproportionate manner than the alleged ‘life-saving’ restrictions imposed by Gov. Mills [are helping them],” Smith said.
The state has not yet responded to the complaint.
The Maine attorney general’s office, which must defend Mills, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Last week, a Superior Court justice barred Savage’s restaurant from reopening until its license to operate was reinstated.
The injunction was sought by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.
The restaurant lost its licenses after Savage defied Mills’ executive orders to shut down because of the pandemic. Savage has said he’d keep his restaurant open even if it means going to prison.
Savage posted late Tuesday on the restaurant’s Facebook page that he had his licenses back and would open at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Bethel is located in Oxford County, one of 12 rural counties where Mills has said restaurants and other non-essential businesses could reopen.
Despite Savage’s rhetoric, it’s unlikely anyone charged with violating the governor’s COVID-19 orders would end up in prison. The misdemeanor crime is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Justice Thomas McKeon acknowledged that Savage would lose revenue from the shutdown, but said the ban on reopening the restaurant is justified by the safety risk it poses to the public by remaining open.
“Although this will have a financial impact on the defendant, it does not outweigh the injury that continued operation causes to the public’s interest in the enforceability of the department’s licensing requirements,” McKeon said.
Savage told the Sun Journal that he’s not keeping the restaurant open because he wants to make money, but because he wants to stand up for other small businesses.
“I don’t have to do this,” he said. “We’re doing this for other people in the state of Maine.”
Watch: The risks associated with reopening rural parts of the state