Judge denies Sarasota business from requiring customers be vaccinated against COVID-19

Sarasota County

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Leon County circuit court judge denied a request from a Sarasota business to allow it to require customers be vaccinated, upholding a state law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis banning “vaccine passports.”

The law “assures open markets,” Judge Layne Smith wrote in his order denying the motion for temporary injunction.

“Prohibiting businesses from requiring patrons to produce documentary proof of vaccination or recovery may or may not be a good idea,” the judge said. “Notwithstanding, that decision belongs solely to the legislature and is subject to approval or rejection by the voters at the ballot box.”

8 On Your Side obtained a copy of the order, which is set to be filed on Friday.

Bead Abode, a hobby shop that closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, sought the injunction so it could require vaccines when it reopened in a new location teaching in-person classes to its “predominantly older female” clientele.

Judge Smith found that, despite the business saying that complying with it “will significantly reduce its revenue,” the law does not abridge Bead Abode’s First Amendment right to free speech, it regulates conduct.

“Plaintiff can freely communicate with patrons, ask them questions about their COVID-19 status, request to see their pandemic-related documents, and review them if provided,” Smith wrote.

Smith added that the law “does not in any way prohibit Bead Abode or other businesses from making inquiries or expressing themselves.”

“Instead, it prohibits plaintiff from requiring its patrons to present documentation certifying their COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery,” the judge wrote.

A business entity, as defined in s. 768.38 to include any business operating in this state, may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business operations in this state. This subsection does not otherwise restrict businesses from instituting screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.

Florida Statute 381.00316(1) — COVID-19 vaccine documentation

Smith was appointed as county judge by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2015. Last year, Gov. DeSantis elevated him to the Leon County Circuit Court.

The ruling is a win for Gov. DeSantis, who first issued the ban on “vaccine passports” as an executive order in April. It was passed into law by the legislature later that month.

The state has recently begun imposing penalties against municipalities that it says are violating a similar section of the law covering government entities.

“This ruling affirms what we have known all along – that our state law prohibiting vaccine passport requirements will withstand legal challenges,” said Governor DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw.

People should not be forced to show their medical papers in order to participate in society. Alongside the Department of Health, Division of Emergency Management, and other partners, Governor DeSantis has worked hard to make sure all eligible Floridians have access to COVID-19 vaccines and are informed about their safety and effectiveness. Today, Florida is above the national average in vaccination rate. As the governor has often said, COVID-19 vaccines should be available to all and mandated for none.

Christina Pushaw, Press Secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis

Smith referenced the recent decision in the Norwegian Cruise Line case, saying he has “great respect” for U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams but her ruling “may be persuasive, but it is not binding on this Court.”

“This case is a matter of first impression in the state courts,” Smith wrote.

That ruling found the law abridged Norwegian’s free speech because it “singles out documentary proof of COVID-19 vaccination” while allowing oral proof.

“Respectfully, the law often distinguishes between written and oral confirmation,” wrote Smith.

Bead Abode’s owner, Kirsten Boyer, was represented in the lawsuit by her husband, Andrew Boyer. In a statement, they told 8 On Your Side they haven’t decided whether to appeal.

“It’s too soon to decide on next steps,” the Boyers wrote. “The decision is disappointing but we respect Judge Smith’s thoughtful analysis and feel vindicated in that the order said we proved the ban will significantly reduce the store’s income.  We think other business owners would agree the ban is not helping them bring back customers or hire staff and is bad for small businesses like ours.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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