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Blue Springs Restaurant That Defied County Mask Mandate Loses Bid To Stay Open

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Customers sign in at the entrance of Rae's Cafe in Blue Springs to formalize their membership before entering the restaurant on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Rae's Cafe and its owner, Amanda Wohletz, had defied the county's health order and allowed unmasked customers and employees into the restaurant.

A Blue Springs restaurant that defied Jackson County’s mask mandate has lost its bid to force the county to restore its food permit and stay open.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Jennifer M. Phillips granted the county’s request for an injunction against Rae’s Café and its owner, Amanda Wohletz, and rejected their countersuit claiming the mask order is illegal.

Jackson County revoked the restaurant’s food permit earlier this month after it repeatedly allowed unmasked customers and employees into the establishment. The restaurant continued to operate nonetheless, saying it had reclassified itself as a private club that wasn’t subject to the mask order.

Phillips said she did not find that argument compelling.

“A business is not permitted to engage in conduct that endangers the well-being of the state,” she wrote in her 12-page ruling.

The county first issued its mask order for public accommodations on Aug. 6. It runs through Oct. 7.

In finding for the county and against the restaurant, Phillips found that Missouri law empowers local health authorities to issue health orders to combat infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Jackson County’s environmental health administrator issued a warning and repeated summonses to Rae’s Café. But after the restaurant ignored them, the administrator revoked the restaurant’s food permit on Sept. 3.

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The doors and front windows at Rae's Cafe in Blue Springs display several defiant messages about mask mandates and Jackson County.

In granting the county’s motion for a preliminary injunction, Phillips found that the county was likely to prevail on the merits when it seeks a permanent injunction against the restaurant.

“The Health order was lawfully created and enforced,” Phillips wrote. “Despite warnings, citations, the revocation of the food permit, and the Jackson County Health Department ordering the closure of the restaurant, the Defendants continued to operate the restaurant. The Court finds the private club and medical exemptions as argued by the Defendant do not provide a sufficient defense.”

Phillips also rejected the counterclaim filed by Rae’s Café and Wohletz, saying the relief they sought could be addressed by seeking monetary damages.

“Additionally,” she wrote, “the Defendants are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claim, given the Health Order was lawfully enacted and enforced.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who has sued Jackson County over its mask mandate, filed a brief supporting Rae’s Café and Wohletz. His office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jackson County Executive Frank White’s office issued a statement saying it appreciated the court’s ruling.

“While we are pleased with the outcome, it is unfortunate that we had to pursue legal action, but today, the Court affirmed that doing so was our only option to ensure our public health order is followed,” the statement read. “We remain committed to taking the actions needed to protect the health and safety of our community during this difficult and challenging time. Together we will get through this pandemic and in the end, we will have a stronger, more compassionate and caring community.”

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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