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Lawsuits & Litigation

As States Begin to Reopen, Lawsuits Begin Rolling in Over Face Mask Mandates

— June 5, 2020

A resident of Nashua, New Hampshire is suing the city over its recently adopted face mask mandate, arguing it violates his constitutional rights.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about quite a few temporary changes to our daily lives. Staying home more often, social distancing, and wearing face masks in enclosed public spaces are just a few of those changes. However, not everyone is one board with those changes, especially when it comes to mandates like wearing a face mask in public. In fact, some people have even gone so far as to sue over the mandate that exists in several towns, cities, and states. For example, Andrew Cooper, a resident of Nashua, New Hampshire, recently sued the city over its mask mandate. According to his suit, Nashua city officials “lack the statutory authority to adopt an ordinance requiring the use of face coverings for those visiting local establishments and businesses.” Additionally, Cooper’s attorney, Robert Fojo, said the city ordinance “violates his client’s constitutional rights, right to privacy and more.”

Scales of Justice. Image via Flickr/user:mikecogh. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The lawsuit itself was filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua last week and notes that the city’s mandate is much more “restrictive than anything Gov. Sununu ordered at the state level and conflicts with several provisions in the governor’s emergency orders regulating the state’s response to the coronavirus.” It further states:

“Because of the overbreadth of (the ordinance), it also deprives Mr. Cooper and other citizens of their privileges and liberty because it prevents them from choosing whether or not to wear a face mask or covering.”

The governor’s order differs from the city’s mask mandate because it simply “requires certain businesses to ask customers to wear face masks or coverings when entering, but it does not require customers to wear them.” Fojo said that the city adopted the restrictive ordinance “without providing the public with ample opportunity to review it.” He added that “no regulation in New Hampshire gives a municipality the authority to enact an ordinance that requires a face mask to be worn.”

The ordinance was voted on by the Nashua Board of Health back on May 13 and passed 10-3. It requires “customers to wear face coverings when entering businesses such as retail establishments, grocery stores, and restaurants,” according to the suit. At the time of its passing, Steve Bolton, the corporation counsel for the city, said the face mask requirement, meant to help slow the spread of COVID-19, was constitutional. He added that the idea behind the ordinance was to “encourage voluntary compliance.” However, the punishment for violating the ordinance is a potential fine of up to $1,000. Bolton added that in most cases, people would not be arrested for refusing to wear a mask.

In addition to claiming the ordinance isn’t constitutional, the lawsuit argues that the city “failed to explain why its health officials are not heeding the guidance of the World Health Organization.” It states:

“The ordinance’s justification that ‘slowing the spread’ of the coronavirus is somehow still a societal objective also ignores the fact that the entire state of New Hampshire has been wildly successful at ‘flattening the curve’ since it never came close to reaching the capacity of its health care system.”

A hearing to discuss the suit is scheduled for June 18 at the Nashua courthouse. 


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