Superior Court Judge Stephen Place granted Inyo County a temporary restraining order on Wednesday. The order will prohibit Two Brothers from Italy restaurant from operating until it complies with public health mandates related to Covid-19.
The County sought legal remedy after Two Brothers, a restaurant located on Main Street in Big Pine, ignored an August 3 “Notice of Violation” letter from Inyo County Public Health Officer James Richardson.
Inyo County Public Health has been fielding complaints about Two Brothers’ staff not wearing face coverings since June.
The day after receipt of the Notice of Violation, Two Brothers made the following defiant post on its Facebook page:
Two Brothers Big Pine will open for lunch tomorrow from 11am to 3 pm, And yes, we have gotten to this point Inyo County Health Department sent Inyo County Inyo Building Inspectors to in force [sic] the health department laws, Game on Inyo County, Two Brothers will feed the Community And You Will Not Stop Us!!!!!
On August 7, two Inyo County employees separately visited the restaurant during lunch hour and observed both mask-less employees and indoor dining.
Two Brothers owner Giovanna LoMedico was contacted by Inyo Deputy County Counsel Grace Chuchla on Monday, August 10 informing her of Wednesday’s emergency hearing.
At that hearing, Two Brothers’ attorney John Migliore argued that his client was not given proper notice to remedy the situation. He claimed Two Brothers should have thirty days grace period from the date of Notice of Violation.
The county, meanwhile, feels that in the midst of a health pandemic, it doesn’t have the luxury of giving Two Brothers thirty days. And it did not appear as if LoMedico was eager to change her tune on face coverings anytime soon.
Meaghan McCamman, Assistant Director of Inyo County’s Department of Health and Human Services, was one of the employees who visited the restaurant on August 7.
According to her declaration, only one of four employees she observed was wearing a mask that day.
“With respect to face coverings,” said McCamman in her declaration, “Ms. LoMedico stated that all of her employees were wearing face coverings, in direct contradiction to what I had observed earlier in the day. Ms. LoMedico further stated that she was not able to wear a face covering herself because of a medical condition. I offered to bring her a face shield with a drape as a non-restrictive alternative to wearing a face covering. Ms. LoMedico declined my offer and stated, ‘I can’t wear that either and you can’t make me.’ This statement from Ms. LoMedico served to confirm
my earlier suspicion that further outreach to Two Brothers would be futile, as they appear to believe that Inyo County lacks the power to enforce coronavirus-related rules.”
Somewhat hilariously, Judge Place had to admonish Migliore to wear a mask as he launched into oral argument on Wednesday.
Migliore said a business closure (resulting if the TRO [temporary restraining order] were issued), would mean lost revenue, lost wages for employees and negative P.R. He said the mask-wearing had been burdensome to Two Brothers – claiming “employees were fainting and had to be sent home.” The indoor dining that had occurred? Migliore described it as an “anomaly.” And, he argued rhetorically, the county says there’s a risk this restaurant will spread corona. Well, where’s the evidence?
Deputy Counsel Chuchla replied, “You can’t wait for a case to establish causation.” She alluded to the Bishop Care Center on that score.
And she disputed the notion that the indoor dining could be described as an “anomaly.”
Finally, she said the goal of the county is for businesses to operate and customers to be protected.
She believes a plan for Two Brothers re-opening could be approved in as little as 48 hours.
Ms. LoMedico told The Sheet Thursday that Two Brothers plans to submit a reopening plan as soon as possible.