A Dallas salon owner who opened her business in defiance of coronavirus-related restrictions was hit with a temporary restraining order and even went to jail for two days after the judge who issued the order held her in contempt of court for continuing to violate it.
Now, however, the Texas Supreme Court has dropped the hammer and stopped the madness in its tracks. In a measure of vindication for salon owner Shelley Luther, the highest court in Texas ruled unanimously on Friday that both the restraining order and the contempt charge were improper and invalid, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Court grants win to small business owner
As a result of the ruling, Luther no longer faces the threat of jail time, nor is she on the hook for the accumulated fines imposed by the lower court judge for her violation of the temporary restraining order, $500 per day of operation.
“This is a victory for any Texan concerned about civil liberties,” one of Luther’s attorneys, Briscoe Cain, said in a statement, according to the American-Statesman.
“When the government seeks to restrain your liberty, you should be fully informed of what the consequences are,” Cain, who also serves in the state legislature as a Republican, added.
As Cain’s statement implied, the underlying issue in the ruling was the order first instated by State District Judge Eric Moyé. The Texas high court said the order failed to meet certain legal guidelines on specificity, and therefore rendered it, as well as the fines and contempt charge that sprang from violation of it, null and void.
The judges’ ruling
In their 10-page ruling, the Texas Supreme Court’s justices wrote:
Luther petitioned this Court, arguing she was illegally restrained because the temporary restraining order was void and unconstitutional. We ordered her released from confinement on personal bond pending the final disposition of the case.
We now conclude that the temporary restraining order failed to set forth the conduct required and the legal basis for its issuance in clear, specific, and unambiguous terms. Accordingly, we hold that the temporary restraining order was void, making the Contempt Judgment based on that order void as well.
The justices’ ruling went on to explain that there were dozens — and at times contradictory — guidelines set forth at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels in Texas, and suggested that Luther couldn’t be reasonably expected to keep up.
“Luther could not know without analyzing a multitude of regulations — state, county, and city emergency orders referenced in the temporary restraining order, plus the federal guidelines they referenced — what conduct was prohibited at any given time the temporary restraining order was in effect,” the justices said.
That failure on the judge’s part ran afoul of the requirements of specificity included in Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 683, the ruling said, and thus the initial order and everything that stemmed from it were shot down.
“Pleased…is an understatement”
“To say we are pleased with the court’s ruling is an understatement,” Luther said in a statement responding to the ruling, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Had the Supreme Court not ruled in her favor, Luther would have had to serve another five days in jail on the contempt charge and would have had to pay an estimated $7,000 in fines for keeping her salon open. She’s now free to pursue an ongoing countersuit against the city of Dallas for her trouble.