Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. owner Nico Ortiz, center, in the blue mask, stands at the corner of his restaurant with his employees, showing signs saying “#LetUsServe.” Amy Byres photo.

Restaurants and breweries can reopen indoor dining and seating at 50 percent capacity, according to a 10-day injunction granted in the Fifth Judicial District Court in Chaves County Monday.

Restaurants will revert back to guidelines set in the June 30 public-health order, said New Mexico Restaurant Association attorney Antonia Roybal-Mack.

The order limits restaurants to 50 percent capacity and requires them to follow COVID-safe practices.

District Court Judge Raymond Romero ordered another hearing on July 30 at 1:30 p.m. to determine if restaurants and breweries can remain open after the 10-day injunction expires.

Romero found the July 13 health order to cause immediate irreparable injury to businesses resulting in “permanent loss of revenue, permanent business closure and/or bankruptcy,” according to the 21-page injunction.

Tripp Stelnicki, spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office, said an emergency motion is being filed with the state Supreme Court to reinstate safeguards enacted by the secretary of health.

“Sustained indoor contact in an environment where face-coverings cannot be worn, such as at restaurants, is unsafe,” Stelnicki said. “A bad ruling by a judge doesn’t change that. New Mexico business operators should continue to abide by the state’s guidelines and restrictions; anything less is to risk the health and safety of employees, customers, their communities and indeed our entire state.”

There have been about 17,000 COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, with about 6,700 recoveries and about 570 deaths, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

“The danger of COVID-19 transmission has risen and continues to rise — increased cases, as we have seen, led to increased hospitalizations and subsequently more COVID-related deaths. New Mexico cannot afford to let up in its fight against this virus,” Stelnicki said.

Roybal-Mack said the judge made the right decision.

On July 13, the NMRA and several New Mexico businesses filed a lawsuit against the governor’s ban on indoor dining at restaurants and indoor seating at breweries.

The NMRA’s position in the lawsuit was that Lujan Grisham’s public-health order is arbitrary and capricious, Roybal-Mack said.

“And what that basically means, in plain English, is that she is making decisions without fact and as a result of that, those decisions are void,” she said.

Roybal-Mack said the NMRA is happy with this decision and they hope to have more like it in their case against Lujan Grisham’s public-health order.

“After the July 30 hearing, hopefully (the injunction) can be extended. I think the evidence is going to be clear to the judge and to everybody else that restaurants are not the cause of COVID-19 spread,” she said.

Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. owner Nico Ortiz stood in solidarity with the #LetUsServe protest July 13.

The virtual protest was organized by the NMRA in response to the governor prohibiting dine-in service.

“I am kind of at a loss of words on this,” Ortiz said. “We never expected this lawsuit to be successful when we participated in (#LetUsServer) to raise awareness on the issue, and we are happy that the order has been reversed and we will play it by ear.”

Ortiz is not planning on reopening indoor dining right away and will need time to properly staff the restaurant, he said.

Having the ability to staff for indoor dining “definitely makes our lives and the lives of the other restaurants significantly easier and it will lead to a less loss of jobs and less loss of independent revenue,” Ortiz said.

Click the link below to read the 10-day injunction document.

2020-07-20_Temporary Restraining Order

Staff writer at Rio Rancho Observer