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Bar Buzz: Ellison settles two COVID-19 actions

Attorney General Keith Ellison may be tied up with a certain high-profile murder trial at the moment, but that hasn’t stopped his office from taking care of other business.

Case in point: On March 8 and March 10, the AG’s office announced settlements with two businesses that it took to court for violating the governor’s COVID-19 emergency executive orders.

The first of them was reached with the Plainview Wellness Center and its parent company, House of Iron, L.L.C.

The gym, which was the subject of a Dec. 2 temporary injunction, has agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and comply with any of Gov. Tim Walz’s current or future executive orders that apply to fitness centers.

If the company violates any terms of the consent judgment filed on March 2, it would face a $25,000 civil fine.

The AG’s office sued the gym and its owner, Brandon Reiter, on Nov. 24, after the business stayed open in violation of the COVID-19 executive orders in force at the time.

Wabasha County District Court Judge Christopher A. Neisen issued a temporary injunction on Dec. 2, closing the gym while his consumer protection lawsuit against the business plays out.

On March 10, the AG’s office said that it had settled another COVID-19-related case, this one involving a Little Canada lounge, The Hookah Hideout.

Under terms of that agreement, owner David Nelson, Jr., agrees to pay a $4,000 fine and comply with the governor’s orders. Violations would subject the business to a $15,000 civil penalty.

The AG’s office sued the lounge on Jan. 7, accusing it of violating emergency Executive Order 20-99, as modified by the later order 20-103.

When the AG’s office first called the lounge, Nelson indicated he would consider complying with the executive orders, if he received funding as part of the state aid package passed on Dec. 14. But after that phone call, the lounge stayed open for indoor, on-premises tobacco consumption and the AG sued.

“The situation is improving but we’re not out of the woods yet, so we must all keep following the COVID guidance and restrictions,” Ellison said in a March 10 press release.

“My top priority has always been educating Minnesotans about their responsibility and winning voluntary compliance,” he added. “Enforcement has been and will continue to be a last resort.”

The two agreements represent the fourth and fifth settlements that Ellison’s office has reached with businesses he has sued for violating the governor’s COVID-19 executive orders.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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