Federal judge sets aside Cuomo’s COVID limits on wedding crowds

Erie County

AKRON, N.Y. (WIVB)–A federal judge in Syracuse has thrown out Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on crowd size at weddings, the ruling stemming from a lawsuit that was filed against Cuomo, the State Attorney General, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and the County Health Department.

Two local couples claimed their religious rights under the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment were being violated, and the decision cleared the way for one of the couples to get married over the weekend.

The last minute decision just added more drama to the wedding and reception held Friday at Timberlodge at the Arrowhead Gold Club in Akron.

Co-owners Lucas James and Clinton Holcomb had been assured by government officials last month, that the crowd limit stemming from the COVID pandemic for their restaurant would also apply to their restaurant when used as a banquet hall for weddings and receptions.

“And all-of-a-sudden they said, no, no, no 50 people,” Holcomb said, “we were like, that does not make sense. How are we 50 percent for a bunch of strangers, and then 50 people for a bunch of people that are one or two degrees of separation?  They said that is what we are being told.”

The partners said that is a world of difference, putting a limit of 50 percent of the Timberlodge’s 200-plus capacity as a restaurant, but then restricting the Timberlodge to just 50 people for hosting a wedding.

James said it put the restaurant and the engaged couples in a tough spot, “Mainly our couples, in a very, very difficult situation.  I personally had to call couples and tell them–and ask them–to lower their guest count to accommodate the state rules.”

The partners had enough and they encouraged two couples to challenge the state in federal court, while they covered most of the legal cost, James estimated at more than $40,000, after they saw what those conflicting regulations were doing to families.

“One hundred-fifty people in your family getting an invitation, and then the 100 that are the least important, I suppose, get uninvited to the event. What does that do to a family?”

Then literally within minutes of Friday’s wedding getting underway, a federal judge ruled in their favor, and James gave the couple the great news.

“When we got the news, and we got the verdict late in the afternoon that day, we were just beside ourselves with excitement.”

The federal judge in Syracuse issued a preliminary injunction against the state and county until a full hearing can be held on the merits.

The partners said their phone has been ringing off the hook since the decision was announced on Friday, preferred inquiries about a date or about the ruling be conducted by email to this address:  Clinton@discoverCBD.com.

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