Palm Beach County residents challenge mask mandate in court, calling it 'unlawful'

Palm Beach County residents challenge mask mandate in court, calling it 'unlawful'
Posted at 9:44 AM, Jul 01, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There were plenty of Palm Beach County residents opposed to a mask mandate. Now some of them are suing to stop it.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Palm Beach County court seeks injunctive relief to overturn the county's order.

Attorneys representing Palm Beach County residents Rachel Eade, Carl Holme, Josie Machovic and Robert Spreitzer claim the new order requiring that masks be worn in public places infringes upon the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.

The 37-page lawsuit, filed by the Coconut Creek-based Florida Civil Rights Coalition, argues that the plaintiffs and other residents are having their "well-settled constitutionally protected freedoms" violated, including their "constitutional and human right to privacy and bodily autonomy."

The lawsuit goes on to say that the county, having no authority to do so under Florida law, "has recklessly required countless American citizens and Florida residents," including the plaintiffs, "to submit to dangerous medical treatments with well-known risks and potential for serious injuries and death, including being forced to wear harmful medical devices like masks."

Palm Beach County commissioners unanimously voted last week in favor of the mask mandate to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus amid a recent surge in cases throughout the county and state.

The lawsuit takes aim at the "ridiculously vague" language of the order, which attorneys for the plaintiffs claim forces residents and visitors "to guess at the meanings and be subjected to punishment and criminal consequence."

It also chastises the order's exemptions "because it arbitrarily and absurdly discriminates against anyone over the age of 2 years old, and countless citizens" who don't meet the "unlawful order's vague and ambiguous exceptions."

The lawsuit berates county leaders for not clearly defining terms like "businesses or establishments" and "persons" as it is written in the order.

"Are non-citizens included?" attorneys wrote. "One is only left to guess, which is why the unlawful order is void for vagueness."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that a permanent injunction "will serve the public interest."

"Millions of Palm Beach County residents and visitors are burdened by the over-reach of their local government in a fashion not before seen in the history of Florida," they wrote, adding that residents are "unduly burdened" by this violation of their rights. "The public has a strong interest in protecting their rights and ability to control their own bodies in the workplace and in public."

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said during a news conference Friday that commissioners do, in fact, have the constitutional authority to mandate masks.

"Obviously, those individuals who claim that they know the First Amendment have obviously never read the First Amendment," Aronberg said. "Because it is within the authority of the County Commission to put forward a mask ordinance. They have the authority under state law. They have the authority under the Constitution."

The lawsuit seeks expedited consideration because the order is currently in effect. A written response by the county is required within 20 days of the filing.

Several studies show that a mask or facial covering limits the wearer from spreading airborne droplets when speaking, sneezing or coughing. The coronavirus can live outside the body in these droplets for several hours and, in turn, infect other people — even before the person who spread the droplets has exhibited symptoms of COVID-19.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance that strongly recommended all Americans over the age of 2 wear masks in public, particularly in situations that would make social distancing impossible.

This story was originally published by Peter Burke on WPTV in Palm Beach, Florida.