Court dismisses lawsuit from bars over brief virus shutdown

DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against Gov. Kim Reynolds by a group of six Des Moines-area bars that challenged her brief shutdown of their businesses in August and September 2020 when COVID-19 was rapidly spreading.

The bars initially sought damages but later dropped those claims and were asking the court to allow their case to go to trial so they could pursue their argument to limit the governor’s powers to close targeted groups of businesses during a proclaimed emergency. A state court judge dismissed their case, concluding it was moot because the governor closed the bars for only weeks and then allowed them to reopen.

The bars claimed Reynolds’ actions were unlawful for several reasons, including their contention that a public health disaster as defined in Iowa law didn’t exist when Reynolds closed them and that only a portion of the affected area was shut down. They claimed their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process were violated.

The court declined to consider the arguments, agreeing with the trial court judge that the case is moot because the bars have been open since the governor rescinded their closure in September 2020.

The justices rejected the argument of the bars’ attorney that the court should rule because another situation could emerge that would prompt the governor to act similarly again. The court said the issues presented are of a public nature and important, but that doesn’t mean they are likely to recur, at least in the same form they had in August and September 2020.

“Courts exist to decide cases, not academic questions of law. For this reason, a court will generally decline to hear a case when, because of changed circumstances, the court’s decision will no longer matter. This is known as the doctrine of mootness,” the court wrote.

A lawyer representing the bars and a spokesman for Reynolds did not immediately respond to a messages.