Ellison takes legal action to block owner from reopening bars, restaurants

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is heading to court to prevent a Stearns County business owner from opening his chain of bars and restaurants on Monday.

Kris Schiffler, of Albany, owns six Shady’s bars and restaurants in the St. Cloud area. He said he's opening his businesses for dine-in service on Monday, against state orders barring dine-in service until June as part of efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"We can’t sit around all summer and watch these businesses just fail. We just can’t do it," Schiffler told MPR News last week. "The people should decide whether we’re open. A governor shouldn’t decide whether we’re open or not."

In a news release sent out Sunday night, Ellison said his office "has the duty to enforce the law and the Governor’s order, to protect Minnesotans’ health, and to protect businesses that are complying with the order from unfair competition. I take that duty seriously."

Ellison is seeking an injunction and possible fines up to $25,000 per violation.

Ellison said his office reached out to several bar and restaurant owners who has said they planned to open Monday in defiance of the state order. He said most agreed to comply with the order, but Schiffler did not.

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It's the first enforcement action taken by the attorney general's office to prevent a bar or restaurant from reopening in violation of the state order.

Stearns County has seen the second-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, behind only Hennepin County.

Restaurants have been allowed to open for delivery and carry-out service, but Schiffler said last week that it isn't enough to support the business. He said that in reopening, "we’re going to try to do it as legal as possible. We’re going to try to obey everything."

"Either we’re opening now or we’re closing forever," he said. "And that’s not what we want to do."

Republican state Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls issued a statement late Sunday calling Ellison's action "appalling."

"Businesses have followed the governor's mandates for months now, and many have been driven to the point where they'll never open their doors again. The fact that our state's top lawyer is trying to sue a business out of existence is unacceptable. This is government overreach in the extreme," Kresha said.