ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A group of New Mexico businesses is suing Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham over the state’s public health order and some of the fines the state has levied while enforcing it. Filed Wednesday in Curry County District Court, the lawsuit comes from seven different businesses mostly in southeast New Mexico. Some of those businesses have been threatened with a $5,000 fine if they remained open for service to customers.
Supporting the lawsuit, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce claims the state is mixing two different laws to enforce the public health order.
“The governor is mixing two laws, she’s taking the enforcement from one law and applying it to the other,” Pearce said. “Under the law that she’s shutting down businesses, she really only has the opportunity to levy the equivalent of a parking ticket, she can give a misdemeanor fine for $100 bucks.”
As of Thursday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration hadn’t formally responded to the lawsuit. During a news conference last week, the Governor welcomed any legal challenges to her administration’s public health orders while saying she expects her decisions to “prevail” in court.
The two laws at the center of the lawsuit are the “Public Health Act” and the “Public Health Emergency Response Act.” The Public Health Act is the law the state has been using to temporarily close businesses. That laws allows for the state to levy $100 dollar fines against non-compliant businesses, per day.
The “Public Health Emergency Response Act” (PHERA) is the law the state has been using to threaten or issue businesses an up to $5,000 fine per day. The lawsuit’s plaintiffs claim PHERA and the fines associated with it don’t apply to the current public health order.
New Mexico GOP Chairman Steve Pearce hopes that a judge agrees with the plaintiffs, allowing for restaurants and others to reopen with a meager $100 a day fine.
“You can’t intimidate people, you don’t have the right to levy those $5000 dollar fines, you can put a hundred dollar fine, but you’ve got to prove that in court,” Pearce said. “I think we’re going to give a pathway for every business in New Mexico to open up, and then the governor has to close them down individually, and I only risk 100 dollars each.”
When asked about the potential of being sued for her administration’s public health orders last week, Governor Lujan Grisham said, “So far we have found that are on very sound legal footing or grounds, and we’ll continue to demonstrate that, I think, productively in front of fact finders.”
KRQE News 13 attempted to speak with at least two of the businesses in the lawsuit Thursday, Frontier Auto and Body and Sol Fitness in Lovington. Both businesses declined our request for an interview. Other businesses named in the lawsuit include K-Bob’s Steakhouse in Clovis, Monroe’s Restaurants in Albuquerque, an outdoor market in Soccorro, Colfax Tavern & Diner in Maxwell, and J. Jones Massage in Hobbs.
Governor Lujan Grisham’s office declined to give any specific statement in response to the lawsuit Thursday. As of Thursday, Curry County District Court had not set a date for when they’ll hear arguments in the case.