UPDATE: Lawsuit dismisses claims against Browning as county health director

1 month 2 weeks 6 days ago Thursday, May 21 2020 May 21, 2020 Thursday, May 21, 2020 2:04:00 PM CDT May 21, 2020 in News
By: Columbia Missourian Staff

Paul Prevo has voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit against Stephanie Browning in her role as Boone County’s health director, but his petition suing her as a city official over the COVID-19 directives she announced on April 30 remains intact.

Prevo’s initial lawsuit sought to block her April 30 coronavirus directives for both Columbia and Boone County.

Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs officially dismissed the case against Browning as a county official Wednesday after County Counselor CJ Dykhouse filed a motion to dismiss and Matt Woods, the lawyer for plaintiff Prevo, filed a notice of dismissal of his case against her as the county’s health director.

Prevo, owner of Tiger Tots Child Development Center, had sued Browning in hopes of blocking both her Columbia and Boone County orders that kept in place many restrictions on certain types of businesses and social gatherings.

Prevo and other business owners believed those rules were too stringent. They argued that they were causing undue harm and that Browning lacked authority to issue them. They wanted the local orders to match the more lenient state guidelines put in place by Gov. Mike Parson.

Boone County Southern District Commissioner Fred Parry, while trying publicly to steer clear of any involvement in the lawsuit given his position as a county elected official, has openly sided with many of the disgruntled business owners’ arguments.

Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill last week intended to call a meeting of county elected officials, excluding Parry, to talk about what they might do if the lawsuit resulted in a temporary restraining order against Browning’s order. He said on KFRU’s “The Morning Meeting” on Wednesday that he felt he had to exclude Parry from that meeting because of his role in promoting the lawsuit. That meeting ultimately was canceled because no agenda was posted.

Jacobs on Friday rejected a request for temporary restraining orders against the city and county directives, saying Woods had failed to provide adequate justification for blocking their enforcement.

On Monday night, Browning outlined for the Columbia City Council her strategies for a gradual reopening of the city and county. The filings from Dykhouse and Woods came the next day.

Browning told the council that, absent any significant spikes in the number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the county, the rules will ease up. From May 26 to June 22, she said, restaurants, churches, retail stores, gyms, fitness centers, bars, movie theaters and entertainment venues will be allowed to open with 50% occupancy limits as long they ensure social distancing guidelines are followed.

Bars, too, will be allowed to reopen with capacity limits, but they will not be allowed to offer counter service.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been 105 positive confirmed cases of the virus in Boone County, according to the city’s website. Eight of those cases remained active.

Editors Note: This story has been corrected to say that the lawsuit against Stephanie Browning as Boone County health director has been dismissed, but the petition against her as a city official remains pending.

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