On March 23, Brewster County commissioners shut down all hotels, motels, and short-term rentals in the county in an effort to rid the county of tourists and outsiders who might carry the coronavirus with them as they escaped urban areas.
A supplemental order also banned all non-essential travel into the county.
Gage Hotel owner J.P. Bryan responded with a lawsuit in the 394th Judicial District court, naming as defendants County Judge Eleazar Cano, Commissioners Betse Esparza, Sara Allen Collando, and Mike Pallanez, and Brewster County. Commissioner Ruben Ortega was not named in the suit since he had voted no on the motion to close the county’s rental facilities.
Then on April 13, Bryan had this case dismissed, and filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Texas challenging the constitutionality of Cano’s orders. The suit argues there is no evidence that coronavirus has infected any residents of Brewster County, that visitors to the county constitute an imminent threat, or that emergency personnel allowed to come into the county and stay at hotels under the emergency order are not a threat.
Bryan also alleges the county acted without receiving any expert advice.
Citing two clauses of the 14th Amendment, the suit challenges the constitutionality of Cano’s countywide orders, and asks the court to declare the orders null and void.
Citing the Equal Protection Clause, the suit says Bryan was intentionally treated differently by Cano’s orders that prevent him from renting to private citizens while exempting certain emergency personnel and government officials, even though there is no basis for the discrimination.
The suit further challenges Cano’s supplemental order banning all travel into the county except for essential services as unconstitutional under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Although Gov. Greg Abbott had declared a state of disaster in March, and Brewster County officials did the same shortly thereafter, local restrictions put in place by the county officials far exceeded the restrictions put in place by the governor.