A group of small-business owners is challenging a series of executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz that forced them to close their businesses, claiming larger companies have been allowed to operate even though they provide similar goods or services.

Unlike anti-shutdown cases in other states, the lawsuit filed by members of the Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition isn’t seeking financial damages. Instead, the owners are asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to strike down the orders on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.

“Don’t tell me I am selfish for wanting to reopen my business,” said plaintiff Larvita McFarquhar, who owns a shuttered gymnastics center and dance studio near Marshall, Minn. “We do know how to take care of ourselves and how to make people safe. This is about common sense.”

If the group wins, the ruling could allow thousands of small businesses to open sooner than the government wants. However, even if the court agrees to hear the case on an expedited basis, it will likely take at least 30 days to get a ruling, according to attorney Erick Kaardal, who represents the business owners. By then, the governor might have already relaxed the order, making the lawsuit moot, Kaardal said.

In the lawsuit, Kaardal argues that the governor has arbitrarily allowed some businesses to remain open while others have been forced to close. He said the disparity favors large corporations such as Target — which have seen sales surge during the shutdown — over small businesses like the yoga center and boxing clubs that also are part of the lawsuit.

“There is no evidence to reflect that large corporations can conduct themselves in a more socially responsible manner in the current health crisis than small businesses,” Kaardal said in the lawsuit.

State officials acknowledged the hardship endured by the plaintiffs and other small businesses in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, acknowledged that some big-box retailers are selling nonessential items that seem to defy the intent of the orders. He said the challenges posed by the crisis inevitably means that some of the governor’s orders are less than “perfect.”

“We are sympathetic to this case,” Grove said. “We know that small businesses are really struggling and we want to do everything we can to help them get through this and do it in a way that is fair and based on science.”

Grove encouraged the owners to apply for a state disaster loan or a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.

McFarquhar said she has already applied for federal assistance, but like many small-business owners, she is still waiting to see if her request for a PPP loan will be successful. She is not hopeful. She said she didn’t even apply for a state loan because her business previously failed to qualify for a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“If you don’t have good credit, these loan programs are not really there for you,” said McFarquhar, owner of Prestige Gymnastics and the Southwest School of Dance. She said she can’t even get unemployment.

“I wasn’t paying myself,” said McFarquhar, who spent $67,000 to buy a former ballroom and convert it into a gymnastics center in 2016. “I was putting everything back into the business.”

 

Staff Writer Christopher Snowbeck contributed to this report.