The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is set to decide this week if a couple can hold a 175-person wedding this Saturday, August 22, 2020, at the Arrowhead Golf Club in Akron, New York.
Two couples had booked the Arrowhead for wedding receptions in August. On August 7th, Judge Glenn Suddaby of the Northern District of New York held in favor of the couples and the venue, and with only 15 minutes to spare, the first of the couples was able to proceed with their event before the case moved to appeal. Now the case is on appeal and the second couple is in limbo.
The case highlights a clash between two New York State COVID-19 Executive Orders. The first limits weddings and other social events to no more than 50 people. The other limits indoor restaurant seating to no more than 50% capacity.
But what about a wedding held at a restaurant facility?
New York State's Health Commissioner Howard Zucker called weddings and other social gatherings potential "super-spreader" events, and said that is why they are limited to 50 people no matter where they are held, and are treated differently from regular restaurant hours under the Governor's Orders.
There is no dispute that in either case, there is no dancing allowed. Food and beverages may only be consumed while seated at tables of no more than 10 people each, and the tables must be set at least 6 feet apart. All persons in the venue must wear a mask covering both their nose and mouth, unless they are so seated and consuming food or drinks. Failure to enforce these rules could lead a facility to lose its liquor license.
Zucker argues that in the normal course of restaurant operations (when not hosting a group event) there is not much mingling around of patrons from one table to another. Patrons in a restaurant generally don't know each other and are there for separate dining experiences. By contrast, at a wedding or other celebration or social gathering, Zucker says, many of the attendees know each other and are there specifically for the purpose of mixing and/or celebrating together as a group. He says the potential for super-spreading COVID-19 in these settings is very high.
Erie County's Department of Health, Environmental Health Division seems also to have confused the two Executive Orders at first. Judge Suddaby, the federal judge who initially heard the case, agreed with Arrowhead venue and its wedding couples, that distinguishing between people gathered for one purpose over another is arbitrary.
The court "failed to differentiate between social gatherings and ordinary dining" since customers at restaurants do not normally mingle around with other patrons, the state argued.