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Flathead County Businesses Say State Unfairly Targeted Them In COVID-19 Lawsuit

Sign on a business door that says 'Attention: for the safety of our patrons and employees, masks are required for entry. Thank you for helpping slow the spread of COVID-19.'

Five businesses in Flathead County are filing counterclaims asking for a jury trial after they were sued by the state for allegedly not complying with the governor’s COVID-19 mandates.

In a ruling from the bench earlier this month, Flathead County District Court Judge Dan Wilson said the state health department didn’t provide enough evidence that the five bars, casinos, restaurants and convenience stores violated the governor’s mask mandate and other COVID-19 directives.

Wilson told the state that if it furthered its case to a jury trial, he would be highly inclined to award the five defendants attorney fees. Gov. Bullock and state health officials have said they are still reviewing options in the case. However, the five businesses filed counterclaims this week asking for financial compensation for attorney fees and other alleged financial damages.

Bruce Fredrickson with Rocky Mountain Law Partners in Kalispell says his clients also argue that Gov. Bullocks COVID-19 mandates are flawed at their core and aren’t legally enforceable. He says the businesses feel unfairly singled out. 

"The allegations made against these businesses could be made against 100 businesses in this valley."

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesperson Jon Ebelt said in a written statement that the state is still reviewing the claims. Ebelt added, "It is our hope that the defendants are working in good faith to protect the health of their staff and customers."

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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