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Four restaurant owners disappointed in court decision, seek to reinstate food permits

The New Mexico Supreme Court decision was rendered on Aug 4

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
Customers are being served at outdoor seating at TJs Diner at 119 E. Main St., in Farmington, on Aug. 6.
  • Country Family Restaurant at 4205 U.S. Highway 64 in Kirtland along with both Los Hermanitos locations — 3560 E. Main St. and 2400 W. Main St — and TJs Diner at 119 E. Main St., in Farmington had food service permits suspended by the New Mexico Environment Department in July.
  • The state is also seeking a state district court order to stop the operations of the four businesses, arguing the owners are placing staff and customers at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
  • Gary Risley, attorney for the four restaurants, has not filed a response to the state's petitions nor has a hearing been scheduled for the four court cases, according to court records.

FARMINGTON — The owners of four San Juan County restaurants that had food service permits suspended for violating the state's state emergency health orders are disappointed in the New Mexico Supreme Court's Aug. 4 decision upholding the governor's authority to fine businesses for violating those orders.

The attorney for the four establishments said the businesses are seeking to have the food service permits reinstated and are grateful for the outspoken public support from the community.

Country Family Restaurant at 4205 U.S. Highway 64 in Kirtland, along with both Los Hermanitos locations — 3560 E. Main St. and 2400 W. Main St — and TJs Diner at 119 E. Main St., in Farmington had food service permits suspended by the New Mexico Environment Department in July.

The state environment department said the restaurants violated the state public health order by continuing to offer indoor dining, in defiance of the July 13 public health restriction re-implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The state is also seeking a state district court order to stop the operations of the four businesses, arguing the owners are placing staff and customers at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Related coverage:State seeks court order to stop four restaurants from operating with no food permits

Gary Risley, attorney for the four restaurants, has not filed a response to the state's petitions, nor has a hearing been scheduled for the four court cases, according to court records. 

Risley said in a statement that a response to the petitions is being prepared.

Customers in outdoor seating at TJs Diner at 119 E. Main St., in Farmington, on Aug. 6, are being served food. TJs and three restaurants are seeking to have the food service permits reinstated after violating the state's public health orders.

The Daily Times visited the four restaurants on Aug. 6 and only TJ's Diner appeared to be open.

Employees were serving customers in covered, outdoor seating along East Main Street, three weeks after the restaurant's food service permit was suspended on July 16.

The Los Hermanitos on West Main Street had the word "Closed" displayed on its electronic signage.

Country Family and the East Main Street Los Hermanitos had handwritten signs on its doors, announcing the businesses were closed.

When a state environment department employee visited the four restaurants on July 23, indoor dining services were not being offered, according to court documents.

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Aug. 4 unanimously held Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's ability to fine businesses up to $5,000 a day for violating the state emergency health orders, according to the Associated Press.

Food news:  Kirtland restaurant becomes 4th in San Juan County to have food service permit suspended

Risley said the businesses are deeply disappointed in the state supreme court's decision and believe the decision is incorrect, but accept the results.

"The (New Mexico) Supreme Court is the final decision-maker in these circumstances, and we must accept their determination of the law in this situation," Gary Risley said.

The restaurants are appealing the fines imposed by the state health department, and Risley said he believes there are several valid defenses to those fines. The businesses are seeking to have food service permits reinstated.

The New Mexico State Police did not respond by deadline to questions regarding the citations and fines filed against the restaurants.

State Police are tasked with enforcing penalties on state businesses and members of the public that refuse to comply with the emergency public health order. 

Risley said the restaurants have applied for an inspection, which could result in the lifting of the citation that suspended the permit.

The restaurants thanked the community for its greatly appreciated support.

"The loyal customer base of each of these businesses is second to none, and continued customer support will be needed as they adapt to ever changing rules while we remain under the governor’s public health order," Gary Risley said.

Related:  Unemployment benefits offered to workers at New Mexico restaurants defying COVID-19 closures

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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