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Gov. Gianforte Orders Health Officials To Drop Flathead County COVID Lawsuits

Gov. Greg Gianforte delivers his State of the State address, January 28, 2021.
Gov. Greg Gianforte delivers his State of the State address, January 28, 2021.

State health officials are dropping lawsuits against five Flathead County businesses. Under former Gov. Steve Bullock the state alleged the bars, restaurants and convenience stores flouted state COVID-19 directives. The reversal comes at the direction of Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Late last year the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services sued five businesses in Flathead County. The state argued they knowingly and egregiously ignored state directives aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, particularly the mask mandate.

Gov. Gianforte during his State of the State Address Thursday said he’s directing the state health department to drop the case.

"The first judge to hear the case ruled against the state, saying it didn’t have enough evidence and that the businesses made reasonable efforts."

DPHHS confirmed in an email that it’s dropping the lawsuits.

"The last thing we all needed for government to get in the way. But that’s exactly what happened in the fall."

Kalispell attorney Bruce Fredrickson represents four of the five Flathead businesses involved in the case. In a written statement to MTPR, he says his clients were happy Gianforte stepped in, writing, “We all agree the prior administration should not have filed these frivolous lawsuits which resulted in significant hardship to our clients."

The five businesses had filed counter claims alleging financial harm stemming from the lawsuits.

Fredrickson did not comment on whether his clients will continue to pursue those claims in court, saying they will be in touch with the administration to address all issues.
Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.