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8 Dallas-area bars sue Gov. Greg Abbott for more than $1 million over closure order

The bar owners argue that Abbott's executive order violates the Texas Constitution and the Texas Disaster Relief Act.
Credit: AP
A sign on the door of the West Alabama Icehouse reads "Closed by the Governor", Monday, June 29, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars again and scaled back restaurant dining on Friday as cases climbed to record levels after the state embarked on one of America's fastest reopening. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Eight Dallas-area bars are suing Gov. Greg Abbott for more than $1 million over his June 26 executive order that required bars and similar businesses that bring in 51% or more of their total sales from alcohol to close. 

The bar owners argue in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Dallas' 68th district court that Abbott's executive order violates the Texas Constitution and the Texas Disaster Relief Act. 

They claim Abbott singled out stand-alone bars, and not bars located in facilities like sports arenas, hotels, restaurants and bowling alleys, because his coronavirus task force includes stakeholders from the hotel, gym, restaurant, amusement park and professional sports industries.

Under Abbott's executive order, amusement parks, restaurants and sporting events can stay open at 50% capacity. 

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The order states: 

"People shall not visit bars or similar establishments that hold a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and are not restaurants as defined above in paragraph number 6; provided, however, that the use by such bars or similar establishments of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options for food and drinks is allowed to the extent authorized by TABC."

The owners of the eight bars mentioned in the lawsuit — Dallas bars Stirr, Citizen, Tiny Victories, High Fives, The Whippersnapper, Play on West 6th, Island Bar and Terrell bar The Side Street Bar — all say their businesses have shut down as a result of Abbott's executive order.

Bars in other cities have also filed suit against Abbott for the latest executive order.

RELATED: Fort Worth bar faces 30-day shutdown after July 4th protest party

"The Bar Shutdown Order is arbitrary, capricious and lacks any rational relationship to any legitimate state interest," the Dallas lawsuit says.

"What the Stand-Alone Bar Shutdown Order does constitute is the political pandering of the Governor to the powerbrokers and political base that makes up the Governor's Coronavirus Task Force," the suit says. 

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The lawsuit names coronavirus task force members Robert B. Rowling, Tilman Fertitta and Bobby Cox as examples of its alleged "political pandering."

According to the lawsuit, Rowling is chairman of TRT Holdings, Inc., which invests in Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym. 

Fertitta is the owner of the Houston Rockets, as well as the chairman, CEO and sole owner of restaurant corporation Landry's, Inc. and the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casinos chain. 

Cox is the owner and operator of Bobby Cox Companies, Inc.. which owns Rosa's cafe, Taco Villa and Texas Burger. 

Restaurants, hotels, amusement parks, sporting arenas are still open in some capacity under Abbott's executive order, although Gold's Gym filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early May and most sporting vents have yet to resume.

RELATED: Going to a bar, working out at gym among 'riskiest' activities for contracting COVID-19

The bar owners allege in the lawsuit that Abbott's order effectively "manipulated" the state's disaster relief act and "commandeered" the stand-alone bars.

"Through his executive orders, Governor Abbott has picked winners and losers, allowing some businesses to stay open, some to partially reopen, and ordering others to stay closed," the lawsuit says.

The bar owners seek a declaration that Abbott's order violates the Texas Constitution and the Relief Act and asks for a restraining order and injunction for Abbott so that he cannot enforce the executive order, as well as damages and $1 million in relief.

No hearing date has been set yet.

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