A federal judge has denied a request by a Chelan, Wash. water park to block Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 emergency proclamation prohibiting business operations in many circumstances.
The lawsuit was filed by Slidewaters in early June with free legal representation from the Freedom Foundation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
Slidewaters employs about 150 people over the course of the summer season, during which the park generates the entirety of its annual revenue.
In its lawsuit, Slidewaters argued: (1) that Gov. Inslee lacks the power to declare an emergency in response to COVID-19, since state law only permits the governor to declare an emergency in response to a “public disorder, disaster, energy emergency, or riot,” while managing public health emergencies is left to county authorities; (2) that the Department of Labor and Industries lacked authority to issue emergency regulations implementing Gov. Inslee’s order; and (3) that the state’s actions shut down businesses like Slidewaters without adequate due process, a constitutional requirement.
However, in a ruling issued this week, Judge Thomas Rice denied Slidewaters’ request for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of Gov. Inslee’s proclamation. Slidewaters has already appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the meantime, state officials have acted quickly to shut down the park, which had remained open during the litigation. Far from ignoring coronavirus concerns, Slidewaters had implemented a series of safety protocols that had been approved by the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
Nevertheless, officials from the Washington Department of Labor and Industries this week issued an “Order and Notice of Immediate Restraint,” ordered the park to close, and assessed a fine of nearly $10,000 for violating the governor’s so-called “Safe Start” order.
Although the park will appeal the fine through the Department’s administrative process, the park’s owners, Burke and Robert Bordner, have decided to close the park as the litigation continues.
In a statement released Friday, the Bornders said:
“Even though Slidewaters’ legal battle against the State of Washington continues… [W]e have no choice but to layoff our 150 employees and suspend our season… This is because of extraordinary and unfair harm and suffering being brought upon us from the actions of Governor Jay Inslee and the Department of Labor and Industries…
Unfortunately, the state has clearly indicated it plans to pursue imprisonment for us if we do not comply with their dictates…
After operating for 30 days and seeing all our team members remain healthy, with no contact tracing of the virus back to us from any guests, now more than ever we stand behind our Clean & Safe Plan. For four weeks we have offered a safe place for families to escape the stress of 2020 and live, laugh and enjoy life again…[W]ith the suspension of the season, we have no way of knowing how we will be able [to] cover expenses moving forward, so we could be forced to permanently close the gates…
We pray that our story will be a cautionary tale against Big Government and over-reaching politicians…”
Ashley Varner, the Freedom Foundation’s vice president for communications and federal affairs, released the following statement regarding the developments:
“One day after a federal judge gave the green light to Gov. Jay Inslee’s use of dictatorial powers over Washingtonians’ lives and livelihoods, the governor wasted no time in further executing his orders against otherwise law-abiding citizens.
On Thursday, officials from the Department of Labor and Industries showed up to Slidewaters, a popular waterpark that employs more than 150 young people in Chelan County, and presented the owners with an order and notice of immediate restraint, including a threat of six month’s imprisonment if Gov. Inslee’s edict is defied.
The Freedom Foundation continues to stand by the owners of Slidewaters and Washingtonians across this state who are trying to keep their lights on and their rent paid. The governor’s unconstitutional edicts are not saving lives, but they are killing businesses.”