Small Businesses Threaten Class Action; House GOP Leader Voices Support

A group of Oregon small business owners is threatening a class-action lawsuit unless the state agrees to offer compensation for coronavirus-related losses.

The attorney who filed the notice of the potential litigation represents clients from among the 32 business categories that could fall under the class-action lawsuit, including Bullwinkle’s Wilsonville, also known as the Wilsonville Family Fun Center.

Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, Canby’s state representative, has voiced her support, saying the governor’s Covid-19 restrictions impacted certain businesses unfairly and arbitrarily.

John DiLorenzo, of the Portland firm Davis Wright Tremaine, is no stranger to class-action lawsuits. He sent his notice of the potential complaint Friday to Governor Kate Brown and the state’s budget and management department, and also sent a copy to the Portland Tribune.

DiLorenzo said the lawsuit his 30-day notice contemplates would not challenge Brown’s legal authority to issue executive orders during the pandemic — which has already been tried on multiple occasions (none successful).

A Baker County case that was pushed by a group of Oregon churches, pastors and other faith leaders did successfully win a lower court decision in May that invalidated — briefly — the governor’s executive orders.

However, the Oregon Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction later that day before tossing the judge’s ruling the following month.

Another case, filed by Portland attorney James Buchal and Canby attorney Tyler Smith, attempted to make the case that the governor’s orders had adversely and unfairly affected businesses, but a federal judge refused to hear the case.

DiLorenzo was not involved in either case. Instead, he said he wished to challenge the seeming capriciousness of Brown’s orders, which forced some businesses to close, while allowing others to stay open.

He also argued that the state has not provided compensation and support that it legally could have under Brown’s emergency declaration, that while laid-off workers received unemployment benefits (eventually), small business owners did not.

“We do wish to point out that whereas you have taken care to provide some level of financial compensation to many affected Oregonians, you have failed to do so for the small business community, which we consider to be the backbone of our state’s economy,” Lorenzo’s notice said, as quoted by the Tribune.

In a statement Tuesday, Rep. Drazan said she supported the potential lawsuit on behalf of affected business owners, accusing Brown of acting “without moderation or consideration.”

“While the governor has the authority to protect public health, Oregonians have the right to demand equal treatment and compensation for their losses,” said Drazan. “Oregonians do not owe the governor their livelihoods, as she continues to move the goalposts in the fight against Covid-19. It’s past time for accountability.”

Drazan appeared to be in agreement with DiLorenzo’s overall point, that while Brown had the authority to do what she did, the effect of her actions was to severely impact certain businesses over others.

“The governor has issued arbitrary, at times contradictory, standards for different communities and groups, handpicking winners and losers for who will be protected from devastating economic impacts, and who will bear the brunt of her orders,” she said. “If she will not operate with an even-hand toward all Oregonians, then the citizens of Oregon will exercise their authority to call her to account.”

The lawsuit would not be necessary, Drazan argued, and could still be averted “if the governor would treat all businesses fairly.”

A spokesman for Brown said the governor generally does not comment on potential or pending litigation.

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