Salt Lake City bar sues county health department over COVID-19 restrictions

This screen capture of a video taken at Echo dance club in Salt Lake City on Sept. 11. shows the crowded bar and no masks, in violation of county COVID guidelines. The county ordered the bar to close on Sept. 19.

The owners of a Salt Lake City nightclub — which has received two warnings for failing to follow Utah’s COVID-19 guidelines — is suing the health department.

Button Up Holdings, the owners of Echo at 134 W. Pierpont say they have been subject to “unsupported” and “unnecessary” requirements and “illegal regulatory enforcement” by the Salt Lake County Department of Health.

“Many of these restrictions lack a sound scientific basis" and are “not necessary to for protection of the public health," according to their complaint, filed recently in 3rd District Court.

The owners says “the restrictions have severely damaged” their business and the health rules violate their “due process rights under the Utah and United States Constitution.”

Nicholas Rupp, spokesman for the Sat Lake County Health Department, said he could not comment on the complaint.

But he did share a copy of the health department order that Echo received in September for failing to require face coverings and social distancing among its patrons.

On the same night, Ibiza Ultra Lounge, 180 W. 400 South, received a similar order from the department, Rupp said.

Both businesses were shut down, but were allowed to reopen once owners submitted a written plan for improvement.

“Echo received a subsequent warning," Rupp said, “after reopening.”

Since then, the Salt Lake County Health Department has issued written warnings to four other bars failing to meet coronavirus mandates including: Liquid Joe’s, 1249 E. 3300 South; Wasted Space, 342 S. State, Twist, 32 Exchange Place; and Sky, 149 Pierpont.

In the Echo complaint, the owners say their customers, who are primarily 21- to 40-years-old, are “not at high risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19 infections.”

Those who do patronize the club, “voluntarily choose to do so," the suit notes. “High risk individuals and anyone feeling sick are encouraged not to patronize the club.”

Echo says the health department has inconsistently enforced its coronavirus regulations and “has constantly changed the standard” that it is supposed to meet.

“This arbitrary enforcement has made it impossible" to comply with the law "and continue to operate.”

The suit also claims that The Utah Department of Health arbitrarily enforces its regulations.

The complaint points to a Sept. 30 event in Springville — and attended by Gov. Gary Herbert — where many attendees “were not complying with face covering requirements.”