Federal Judge Denies Motion for Temporary Restraining Order Against Springfield Mask Ordinance

A federal judge has denied the request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the city of Springfield’s mask ordinance.

Attorney Kristi Fulnecky filed a motion for the TRO on behalf of her client, Rachel Shelton, who claimed her civil rights were violated by the ordinance; namely her First Amendment right to practice her religion; and her Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Fulnecky’s motion also called the ordinance “overbroad under the due process clause” of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Judge Douglas Harpool issued his ruling Wednesday afternoon after taking the matter under advisement following a Monday hearing.

The court looked at four factors in making its decision to deny the TRO:

  • (1) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant;
  • (2) the state of the balance between this harm and the injury that granting the injunction will inflict on other parties litigant;
  • (3) the probability that movant will succeed on the merits; and
  • (4) the public interest.

Judge Harpool stated in regards to the claims of irreparable harm that Shelton’s claustrophobia exempted her from the ordinance; he also noted that “Plaintiff has offered no evidence of a harm she has suffered.” He also noted that while Shelton was concerned about harassment from other citizens, no evidence was presented that she was subjected to any harassment.

“The Ordinance requiring Plaintiff to wear a face covering is at most an inconvenience for her or any other citizen,” Harpool wrote. “Plaintiff has not shown that such inconvenience deprives her of a constitutional right.”

Harpool said that in the consideration of the balance between harm and injury that granting the injunction could inflict and in consideration of the public interest, he wrote that the interest did not weigh in the TRO’s favor.

“The Court finds public interest favors the City’s ability to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” Harpool wrote.

Harpool cited several other cases, including Frank v. City of St. Louis in May, that noted “there can be little doubt that the public interest heavily favors the city’s ability to take steps to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.”

Finally, Harpool said it was unlikely that the lawsuit would win on the merits.

Harpool noted an Eighth Circuit ruling that said even in a time of pandemic there could be a curtailing of some Constitutional rights.

“Thus, even if the Ordinance were found to touch upon Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, which this Court is not inclined to find, the Ordinance would still be lawful during a time when the City is faced with a pandemic,” Harpool wrote.

As he wrapped up his denial, Harpool noted: “Here, the Court finds the City’s passing of the Ordinance was clearly executed inrelation to the public’s interest and the balance weighs greatly in favor of the City. As a result, Plaintiff has failed to meet her burden for a TRO.”

Cora Scott, PIO for the City of Springfield, said city officials were aware of the ruling but would not comment on pending litigation, noting a motion from the city to dismiss the case as being something still outstanding in the matter.

A message was left via email and voice mail with Kristi Fulnecky’s spokeswoman and we will update this story with their statement.

Here is the judge’s ruling:


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