Rick Savage, the owner of Sunday River Brewing Company, addresses reporters outside of his restaurant in May. Credit: Charles Eichacker / BDN

The owner of Sunday River Brewing Company and other business owners have dropped their lawsuit challenging Gov. Janet Mills’ spring pandemic-related business shutdowns that they filed earlier this year.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case Wednesday at the plaintiffs’ request.

Rick Savage, whose Bethel restaurant remains open despite a court order to close, and others sued Mills in U.S. District Court in Bangor in May. The plaintiffs sought an injunction ordering the governor to allow businesses to reopen immediately and to lift the 14-day quarantine on people coming to Maine from out of state, restrictions Mills imposed in March and April to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In August, U.S. District Judge Lance Walker ruled in Mills’ favor, saying that the business owners failed to show how the governor’s executive order disproportionately targeted or damaged them. Walker also found that state health officials have a constitutional right to act on behalf of public health and safety in emergencies such as the pandemic.

The lawsuit also lost meaning when Mills eventually allowed restaurants to reopen and relaxed the travel restrictions as the summer tourist season began, the judge said.

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The plaintiffs appealed Walker’s decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, where it had been pending since September.

Last week, a Superior Court justice in Oxford County suspended Savage’s license to operate for 30 days after inspectors cited the restaurant for staff members not wearing face coverings and failure to install plexiglass, WGME reported Wednesday.

Savage said he would not follow the order and will go to court next week in a fight to keep his business open. The restaurant was open Thursday afternoon.

Augusta attorney Stephen Smith, who represents Savage and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Mills, said the decision to drop the case was made because “litigation concerning the virus has evolved significantly since our original filing.” He also criticized the governor and said future lawsuits could be filed.

“We believe strongly that our clients and the state of Maine have been harmed by the governor’s actions and are actively looking for new cases to fit the current legal landscape,” Smith said. “It is shameful that the Legislature, which embodies the will of the people of Maine, has completely abdicated its responsibility to the people and allowed Gov. Mills to rule unchecked.”

Marc Malon, spokesperson for the Maine Attorney General’s office, which defends Mills, declined to comment on the dismissal of the appeal.

Two other appeals over the governor’s pandemic restrictions still are pending at the appellate court in Boston. One was filed by Calvary Chapel in Orrington over limits on gatherings in houses of worship. The other was filed by campground owners in southern Maine over the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-staters.

Federal judges in Maine ruled in Mills’ favor in both cases.

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