Court dismisses lawsuit against previous West Virginia COVID-19 restrictions

(The Center Square) – The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit filed against West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice for his previous COVID-19 lockdown policies, but refused to rule on the merits because the rules have since expired.

His executive order to restrict businesses and schools prompted a litigation filed by three businesses and two individuals. The governor’s orders temporarily banned on-premise consumption of food and drink at restaurants, shut down gyms and barber shops, halted in-person schooling and issued a stay-at-home order. The plaintiffs filed their complaint in September, which was six months after the governor issued the executive orders.

A lower court dismissed the case in January of 2021; an appeal followed. The appellate court has now dismissed the appeal.

“The plaintiffs now appeal that ruling, but we cannot address its merits,” the court said. “The governor has long since terminated each of the challenged executive orders, and there is no reasonable chance they will be reimposed. As a result, this case has become moot. We therefore vacate the District Court’s judgment and remand with instructions to dismiss the case.”

Each of the rules challenged by the plaintiffs expired more than a year ago. The businesses in the filing argued their rights had been unconstitutionally restricted in regard to operating and the individuals, who had children in school, argued their rights had been violated because in-person education was not available.

Although the court never ruled on the merits of the case, Justice said that the courts have consistently upheld the governor’s executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he claimed demonstrates that he made the right decisions.

“We’ve been through a bunch of these cases where we were being sued over our decisions whether to play sports, close bars and restaurants, and on and on,” the governor said. “Well the final cases were just dismissed last week. We may be one of the only states in the country to win every single one of these cases. What does that tell us? It tells us that we made the right decisions time and time again.”

The governor has continued to hold multiple news conferences related to COVID-19 every week. In his most recent briefing, he said the state surpassed 7,000 COVID-related deaths, but that cases have been declining in recent weeks. About 72.5% of West Virginia adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 63% are fully vaccinated. More than 55% have received booster shots.