Court dismisses 4 mask-mandate citations against Dubuque brewery

Four municipal citations issued against a Dubuque brewery and its owner related to violations of the city’s mask mandate recently were dismissed.

An Iowa District Court magistrate granted the City of Dubuque’s request to dismiss three infractions against 7 Hills Brewing Co. and one against its owner, Keith Gutierrez.

The citations were issued in late 2020 after the business refused to enforce a city mask mandate, which was instituted in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, the citations were issued for failure to post face-covering requirements and for not requiring employees to wear face coverings.

The initial citation against 7 Hills carried a maximum fine of $750 while the two subsequent ones had a maximum of $1,000. The violation for Gutierrez could have been as high as $750.

News of the citations’ dismissal “shocked” Gutierrez, who said he expected to lose the case in district court and then file an appeal.

“My end goal was to bring it to the Supreme Court of Iowa,” he said Tuesday.

Gutierrez contested that the city was “overstepping its boundaries” by enforcing a mask mandate at a time when the state had not issued one.

In its request for dismissal, the City of Dubuque cited legislation passed by state lawmakers, then signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds on May 20, that limited school districts’ and local governments’ ability to impose mask mandates.

Maureen Quann, assistant city attorney for the City of Dubuque, acknowledged that the governor’s action wasn’t retroactive, meaning it did not prevent the city from enforcing mask mandate violations from 2020. However, the action did provide further evidence that the landscape around COVID-19 had changed.

“The legal climate had greatly evolved at the state and local levels in regards to mask mandates,” Quann explained. “In addition to that, the best tools to slow the spread of COVID-19 had changed greatly, as vaccinations had become readily available.”

At the time that both Dubuque and Dubuque County officials issued mask mandates last year, Reynolds and the state attorney general’s office contended that local governments did not have that authority.

Gutierrez in November stated that he was standing up against “tyranny” by opposing the city’s mask mandate. However, enforcement of the mandate was sparse.

Quann said the city issued seven citations over the course of the pandemic, including at least four tied to 7 Hills.

Three other individuals that received citations opted to pay them right away. Quann said associated fines were similar to the cost of a parking ticket.

The penalties for the 7 Hills citations only rose to $750 or higher once it became a municipal citation and entered the court system.

“With both businesses and individuals, our goal was providing education and information, rather than issuing a fine,” Quann said.

The brewery’s stand on the mask mandate drew a spirited response on social media, with many leveling criticism at 7 Hills. Gutierrez said it was “never his intent to be controversial.”

“Some of my best friends didn’t agree with my decision,” he said. “There were a few employees who were very angry at what I did and ended up leaving.”

However, Gutierrez said the majority of his employees, as well as many customers, were appreciative of the stance the brewery took.

“At the time, I felt it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I still feel like it was the right thing to do.”

The order from Iowa District Court stated that the City of Dubuque must pay costs related to the court proceedings. Quann explained that the city paid $95 for each citation at the time of their filing and, as the losing party in the case, it will not recoup these funds.