State statutes Michigan health officials relied on to restrict businesses and gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic are unconstitutional, a circuit court judge ruled last week.

Circuit Court Judge Colin Hunter ruled on May 2 that the Michigan laws the Health Department of Northwest Michigan relied on for issuing restrictions during the pandemic violate the state’s separation of powers between the legislative, judicial and executive branches.

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The ruling follows an opinion from Hunter in January 2022 that a similar statute “fails to pass Constitutional muster,” as well as a state Supreme Court ruling in 2020 that struck down the emergency powers Gov. Gretchen Whitmer leveraged to impose pandemic restrictions.

The May 2 ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by the Iron Pig Smokehouse in Gaylord, where owner Ian Murphy defied the state’s emergency public health orders to continue serving customers during parts of the pandemic.

“These two statutes did more damage to our state than all the previous executive orders issued under the now unconstitutional Emergency Powers of the Governor Act,” Murphy said in a statement Wednesday, referring to Hunter’s rulings. “For two years the Iron Pig was not afforded proper due process under the regulatory scheme developed using the ‘Gathering Statutes’ to … subvert justice in the name of compliance.”

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development suspended the Iron Pig’s liquor and food licenses in December 2020. Those agencies also secured a temporary restraining order from an Ingham County judge in 2021 with the help of the state attorney general’s office, leading to $5,000 in fines for ignoring the order, according to the Petoskey News-Review.

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Murphy temporarily closed the restaurant before reopening once the liquor and food licenses were restored. Hunter overturned Murphy’s fine in 2022, the news site reports.

“We’re 2-0 against the Government!” the Iron Pig posted to X. “No more lockdowns, mandates or silly arbitrary rules again! A huge victory for liberty and due process rights.”

The smokehouse’s statement notes the ruling impacts six counties in northern Michigan – Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties under the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, and Crawford and Kalkaska counties within the 46th Circuit Court’s jurisdiction.

The health department has 21 days from the May 2 ruling to appeal, though it remains unclear whether it will. Department officials withdrew an appeal of Iron Pig’s 2022 case before it was taken up by the Court of Appeals.

The Iron Pig is one of many businesses that filed suit against the state in the wake of the government-imposed pandemic restrictions that ultimately cost Michigan one third of its small- and mid-sized businesses, 81,900 jobs, and years of learning loss in schools across the state.

“The bottom line is the (Whitmer’s Department of Health and Human Services) rulings put these people under extreme economic pressures, many of whom have not reopened,” Al Addis, attorney representing T&V Associates that won a Court of Appeals decision against the state last year, told the Detroit Free Press.

While many of the COVID era lawsuits have been resolved, Murphy predicts the May 2 ruling could result in more cases across the state in the future.

“I have been in contact with over 60 Food Service Establishments around the state that may seek the same remedy in their respective districts,” he wrote in Wednesday’s statement. “More information to come.”