The owners of a niche business that operates seven “escape rooms” filed a legal action against Los Angeles County health officials, alleging they were ordered to close under threat of criminal action amid the coronavirus pandemic without the opportunity for a hearing.
60out operates a relatively new entertainment form commonly called “escape rooms,” which are interactive entertainment venues designed for small groups of six or less. Patrons, mostly from the same families, reserve rooms by the hour and work to solve puzzles in a limited amount of time in order to “escape” the room.
A staff member supervises the groups from closed-circuit cameras in a different room. The groups do not commingle with other patrons or with employees.
60out filed the Los Angeles Superior Court petition on Wednesday against Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Also named as defendants are Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and state Public Health Officer Sonia Y. Angell. The Shenon Law Group in Sherman Oaks is representing the plaintiff.
60out seeks court orders forcing the government officials and agencies to “outline a clear process by which a business can determine whether or not it is allowed to reopen” and to provide a notice and chance to be heard before a mandated closure.
The petitioners also want a second order directing that a June report directing them to close or face further legal action be set aside, saying they are “concerned that the county is unnecessarily discriminating against the petitioner simply because it is unaware that this particular type of diversion is actually quite useful and valuable in a time of an infectious disease emergency where people must observe social distancing and actually poses a very low risk of infection.”
A representative for the county did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
60out’s seven rooms closed in March after the first stay-at-home order was issued, the petition states. During May and June, while most of the orders were still in place, Los Angeles “erupted into protests and demonstrations where thousands of people gathered in the streets to protest racial inequality, police brutality, the city budget and more,” according to the petition. “No one stopped them from doing so in the name of public health or the … executive orders.”
On June 11, some businesses were allowed to reopen, including fitness facilities, museums, hair salons, cardrooms and personal care establishments, and 60out accordingly made plans to reopen and organized compliance measures regarding sanitation and social distancing and also rehired dozens of laid-off employees, the petition states.
But on June 26, County Environmental Health Officer Jenny Woo, based on an anonymous complaint, issued an official inspection report alleging a violation of operating a non-essential business and directing 60out to discontinue operations at once or suffer further legal action, according to the petition.
The report did not explain any basis for the designation of 60out as non-essential, how to determine the way a business is categorized or when and how it may open, the petition states. Woo “simply stated that the escape room was not on the list of types of businesses permitted to reopen,” the filing says.
60out “wants to enhance lives, not compromise health, and (the petitioner) is in a position to do so at least as safely as, for example, a massage parlor or tattoo parlor, two specific types of businesses that have been expressly permitted to reopen,” the petition states.
Amid rising coronavirus infection numbers, Newsom recently reversed many of the orders that had allowed some non-essential businesses to reopen.
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