Ceruti Catering Inc. has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Allen County Health Department for COVID-19 restrictions that the business says has caused it monitary damages and lost revenues.
The 25-page complaint was filed March 9 in Allen Superior Court.
Ceruti is a full-service catering and event-planning company that offers banquet space, catering, alcoholic beverage service and decorating services.
Ceruti’s Summit Park location is designed to host social events, such as wedding receptions, and business events. Its Diamond Room has a maximum capacity of 600, according to its website.
The lawsuit alleges that Holcomb’s executive orders over the past year have decimated the business due to loss of revenue. In March 2020 Holcomb’s executive order 20-08 declared Ceruti a nonessential business and ordered it to cease operations. Ceruti lost 34 events that month. The company also lost money on food and products that had been ordered in preparation for these cancelled events.
April 2020 was worse; Ceruti lost 49 events and customers weren’t booking future events due to uncertainty over the pandemic.
In May Holcomb’s executive order 20-26 began the process of opening up the state, but Ceruti would have been limited to gatherings of 10 to 15 people. The lawsuit notes the size of the banquet rooms would have allowed for much greater numbers of people why still maintaining social distancing requirements.
Ceruti serves food and beverages just like a restaurant, the lawsuit states, but is treated differently than a restaurant, which the lawsuit states is discriminatory treatment.
The Allen County Department of Health (ACDH) also established rules even stricter than EO 2036. The lawsuit notes that neighboring Whitley County does not have to abide by those rules, therefore the ACDH requirements are discriminatory against Ceruti, the lawsuit states.
At the start of 2020 Ceruti employed 32 full-time employees and more than 80 part-time employees. But as of March 2021 Ceruti only has five employees who have not lost full-time hours and wages, and the rest of the employees are either furloughed, on unemployment or have had their hours significantly reduced.
When COVID numbers began rising again around the holidays, the restrictions tightened again. Gatherings were reduced from a maximum of 250 people to 25. Ceruti lost all its booked events for November and December 2020, resulting in a loss of revenue of over $500,000.
In another example of what the lawsuit calls discrimination, EO 20-50 allowed restaurants to resume setting up buffets and salad bars, but the order did not apply to Ceruti, even though they have the same license and permits as a restaurant or bar.
Despite the hardship to the business, Ceruti has complied with all the executive orders and ACDH directives, the lawsuit states.
It also cites inconsistencies in Holcomb’s executive orders. “Holcomb continues to change the metrics and measures used in his Executive Orders with no basis on statistical data or science. Therefore, the Executive Orders and the restrictions set forth in them, are random, arbitrary and capricious,” the lawsuit states.
Count I in the lawsuit states that Holcomb’s executive orders have deprived Ceruti of life, liberty and property with due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. It also alleges an abuse of power.
Count II states Holcomb’s executive orders do not comply with the constitutions of the United States or the State of Indiana. It states Indiana mandates a separation of power between the legislative and executive branches, and the power to enact and alter laws is conferred specifically to the legislative branch.
The lawsuit acknowledges the governor’s right to issue executive orders under authority of Indiana’s Emergency Management and Disaster Law, but says the “emergency” of the pandemic has passed, therefore he should call for a special session of the Legislature to pass law, and his power to enact executive orders should be limited.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages in the amount owed for the defendants’ violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and an award of costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees.
Holcomb issued the following statement through his press office: “We do our homework before we create executive orders. I’m confident in my authority to set in place requirements that save Hoosier lives.”
It was exactly the same statement he made when Yergy’s State Road BBQ in Bluffton sued him and the Wells County Health Department in December. Yergy’s sued the health department, the governor and the state after being forced to shut down for violating the state’s executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the summer.