By Teresa Reile
A Win for every business owner in NYS & YOUR help is requested.
On August 7, 2020, A landmark case which affects everyone in New York State was won in Western NY. Local Business owners of Arrowhead Golf Club in Akron, NY became the target of ire by the powers that be with regard to the ever changing, ambiguous and draconian mandates coming out of Albany which have had everyone in a quandary as to what is really going on and as to how they are going to survive.
“We are small business owners who have been decimated by the shutdown but we will continue to fight for all business owners in NYS”
Clinton Holcomb and his partner Lucas James own and operate Arrowhead Golf Club in Akron, NY which is a golf course, restaurant and wedding venue. The merry go round of changing rules in NYS and Erie County threaten not only their livelihood, but every business owner in New York State.
On July 1, 2020 the Erie County Health Department told the business owners they could operate at 50% capacity for the Phase IV re-opening plan. This was great news. Their capacity is 438 people. So, the restaurant can have over 200 people eating dinner in a safe and healthy manner, according to the government’s own guidelines.
A little over a week later, on July 10th, they were told the exact opposite – they can’t perform a religious service or host weddings with more than fifty people. This makes no sense. Two hundred people can eat safely in the restaurant, but a religious gathering – a wedding would be shut down if more than fifty people attended?
This is a first amendment and a 14th amendment contradiction contained in the ‘equal treatment’ clause.
Logic dictates that when there are contrary facts (facts in opposition to one another), then a lie exists. Remember that folks. When you come across two ‘facts’ in opposition, there is a lie. To know who the liar is, just look to who is trying to exert control over another.
The first amendment clearly states:
‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
Why then, is it ok to have VIOLENT riots (which go against first amendment) but not be able to have the most sacred of religious ceremonies and peaceful assemblies which IS covered by the first amendment of the constitution?
One could question as to whether there is something afoot regarding trampling on one’s right to the first amendment when it pertains to religion, and the 14th amendment when it comes to treating similar businesses alike.
Soos v. Cuomo case
On June 25th, 2020 Federal Judge Gary L. Sharpe in the Northern District of New York, ruled in favor of religious gatherings not being limited in capacity any more than other industries like restaurants. A wedding is a sacred, religious gathering.
The Arrowhead case is based on merits similar to the Soos v. Cuomo case.
On July 24th, almost one month after the Soos ruling, the owners of Arrowhead Golf Club were blindsided when police officers and the Department of Health showed up to shut them down. They had no regard for the Soos vs Cuomo case, even after they were shown the injunction in their defense.
The owners were issued a citation.
Mixed messages from the powers that be have kept restaurateurs and venue operators in a constant state of not knowing what to expect next, and many of them have gone out of business, never to open again.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
One week later, and at great expense, the business owners filed a lawsuit against Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Empire State Development (NYS) and the Department of Health.
The business owners felt that it is critically important to protect their rights (and ultimately yours too) and the rights of couples everywhere under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
This lawsuit was on behalf of two wedding couples that were previously booked at the venue, Jenna DiMartile and Justin Crawford, and Pamella Giglia and Joe Durolek, as well as a Pastor David Shamenda.
More government overreach?
When NYS found out about our lawsuit, the State Liquor Authority held an emergency meeting the morning of August 6th to decide what to do about Arrowhead. In an apparent attempt to circumvent federal court and take matters into their own hands, the SLA acted with lightning speed and without even bothering to wait for the judge’s ruling in their lawsuit, they arrived with armed officers and in an attempt to intimidate them and others in the industry, stripped them of their liquor license.
It begs the question as to whether this action was taken in retaliation of their lawsuit.
The couple (Jenna DiMartile and Justin Crawford), who had booked their wedding for August 7, 2020 at Arrowhead were devastated when they heard the news that they would have to cancel their wedding which was to take place the following day.
A year’s worth of planning, invitations sent, untold expenses…not to mention the sheer emotional stress and disappointment that this caused the young couple the day before what is supposed to be the happiest day of their lives.
Competent law firm to the rescue
The next day, August 7th, the law firm of Rupp Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham, LLC presented oral arguments in front of Hon. Glenn Thomas Suddaby, Chief United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. Tony Rupp, principal of the firm, had this to say,
“This decision is of statewide importance because it allows any restaurant venue to hold weddings up to 50% of the venue’s occupancy limit, so long as the venue and its guests agree to abide by the Covid-19 safety protocols applicable to restaurant dining.
The decision was based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, not the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment, so it could also apply to gatherings of any group in excess of 50 people at restaurant venues, so long as all Covid-19 safety protocols applicable to restaurants are followed.”
We Sued. Took on NYS. And We Won.
Chief Justice Suddaby ruled in the couple’s favor. He granted a preliminary injunction preventing the defendants from enforcing Cuomo’s Executive Order limiting social gatherings to fifty people. His decision and order was handed down ONE HOUR before the couple’s wedding at 4pm that afternoon.
The owners of Arrowhead printed out Judge Suddaby’s order and handed it to the couple (Jenna DiMartile and Justin Crawford) right before they lined up for their wedding ceremony.
In the decision Hon. Suddaby stated,
“there is no discernable rational reason for limiting a wedding use of the venues to only 50 individuals when the individuals present at the wedding would be required to abide by the same safety rules applicable to ordinary diners”
“Nor is the Court persuaded that Plaintiffs are required to somehow prove that they will comply with all of the required measures in order to show entitlement to relief, given that the myriad of other non-essential businesses or uses that have been allowed to operate under the current reopening plans are not routinely required to show such compliance before being allowed to proceed with their operations.”
Tears of joy and definitely a story to tell the grandkids
It was a beautiful moment when the young couple were able to share the sacred day they dreamed of, and exchange their vows before God, their family and friends, with a total of 120 guests.
Their wedding celebration was ruled to be legal literally one hour before they walked down the aisle.
“I wish I could say that was the ‘end of our battle, but unfortunately it is just the beginning”
“While we are thrilled the court ruling will help other venues and restaurants, this important lawsuit has hurt my family financially”, says Holcomb, “To bring this lawsuit forward we have spent in excess of $40,000. COVID-19 crippled our business to begin with. However, this ruling could impact restaurants and wedding venues across the state, so because of that we are happy.”
The Governor’s office has stated that they intend on fighting this WITH TAXPAYER MONEY, when Cuomo’s press secretary Caitlin Girouard stated, “We will pursue all available legal remedies immediately and continue defending the policies that have led NY to having – and maintaining- one of the lowest infection rates in the country, while cases continue to rise in dozens of other states.”
Again, one must be wondering as to what the real agenda is behind this, when one is able to assemble in violent protest (in blatant violation of the 1st Amendment), but one is not able to exercise the inalienable God-given right to the free exercise of religion in peaceful assembly.
Even though the decision was based on the 14th amendment regarding ‘persons similarly situated should be treated alike’, this is a major constitutional win which impacts the first amendment as well.
Therefore, to carry on this fight, the owners of Arrowhead respectfully call on everyone who values their freedom and constitutional rights, but also those who value their right to make a living and feed their families without government interference.
If you own a restaurant or venue or if you like going to restaurants or venues, this applies to YOU.
A GoFundMe drive has been established to help continue this fight
Please help in this fight and donate whatever you can.
It will affect all of us.
If you would like more info, you can contact the venue operator at: firstname.lastname@example.org