A local strip club could doom a business curfew in Miami implemented to curb the coronavirus pandemic in Florida’s largest county.
Over the past several months, local regulations in Miami-Dade have required businesses close early in the evening, a measure county officials took with hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus.
But on Friday, a Miami-Dade judge ruled in favor of Tootsie’s strip club in Miami Gardens, which sued the city, arguing that the club should be allowed to stay open past the midnight curfew.
In her Friday ruling, Judge Beatrice Butchko wrote that the county’s regulations conflict directly with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that coronavirus-related restrictions not prohibit Floridians from working.
“The Miami-Dade curfew orders conflict with [DeSantis’ executive order] because they prohibit Tootsie’s from operating; they prohibit employees and contractors from working; and they reduce capacity to zero for the entire time subject to the curfew,” Butchko wrote.
While the strip club made a somewhat unorthodox argument in court, seemingly claiming that dance was an expression of constitutionally-protected free speech that was being violated by the county, the Friday ruling could nonetheless have major implications for businesses in the county.
Some observers believe the ruling could essentially nullify the county’s curfew, allowing restaurants, nightclubs and other businesses to remain open all night.
In a statement on Saturday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city would not be enforcing the curfew, so as not to confuse local businesses. But as the Miami Herald notes, Miami-Dade County could decide to enforce the curfew, which would potentially put the county in conflict with the judge’s order.
“We’re not going to be enforcing the curfew tonight,” Suarez said. “In order to not create confusion, we’re not going to enforce the curfew until there is clarity.”
Florida has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, the state reported over 4,000 new coronavirus cases, and 87 deaths. Almost 16,000 Floridians have died in the state since the pandemic began earlier this year.
Still, the state has charged ahead with reopenings with few mandatory guardrails for residents against the virus.
Last month, DeSantis announced that the state would allow bars and restaurants to open at full capacity, and would override local regulations and ordinances attempting to limit capacity. While it provided some avenues for counties and cities to still set restrictions, his order included a prohibition on local governments issuing any coronavirus rules that prevented people from working.
The governor has also refused to implement a mask mandate, and has seemed to support large, in-person outdoor events, attending a Trump rally last week and allowing professional sports teams to hold games with thousands of fans.
After DeSantis issued his order, Tootsie’s immediately stopped following the curfew, a lawyer for the club, James Benjamin, told the Miami Herald. It allowed the club’s late-night workers to earn a living, he said, but a club manager was given a $500 citation by county police for staying open one night.
Friday’s ruling came just days after Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez had already pushed the evening curfew back from 10 p.m. to midnight.