A lawsuit filed this week in New Hampshire challenges its statewide order prohibiting crowds of more than 50 people, a measure aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Merrimack Superior Court, asserts that Gov. Christopher Sununu does not have the authority to issue such a ban and “there is no emergency that allows such an order."
“When ZERO people have died, and only 17 people have been diagnosed, there is no emergency, as a matter of law,” the lawsuit contends. Sununu declared a state of emergency last week.
The three plaintiffs are Facebook friends of Manchester lawyer Dan Hynes. He’s well known as New Hampshire’s “DWI Guy." He’s also a former state representative.
"When I saw the governor’s order, I was rather upset and other people were too,” Hynes said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We understand we are very much in the minority here.”
The plaintiffs are “aggrieved” by Sununu’s order, which was issued on Monday. By closing down dine-in restaurants and churches, Sununu is violating their constitutionally protected rights to assemble and worship, not to mention their rights to free speech, the lawsuit says.
David Binford, of Bath, is one of the plaintiffs. According to the complaint, the ban will prevent him from making his usual rounds of political meetings and events hosted by the Grafton County Republican Committee. Holly Beene, of Manchester, will be deprived of “going to market” and eating out at restaurants, the lawsuit states.
Sununu’s ban applies to social, spiritual and recreational activities — not supermarkets.
The third plaintiff is Eric Couture, also of Manchester. He said he will be forced to miss church services he usually attends three times per week at Bible Baptist Church in Nashua.
Sununu’s spokesman, Ben Vihdstadt, said the order was most certainly within the governor’s authority.
"We are confident the court will agree,” he said.
A judge on Wednesday declined to hear the matter on an emergency basis. He scheduled a Friday hearing in Merrimack County Superior Court.
The lawsuit is not a publicity stunt, Hynes said.
“Getting negative publicity is in no way helping me,” he said.
Hynes said New Hampshire law has a specific definition of emergency that has not been met.
“I don’t think what [Sununu] has done is permissible under the constitution,” he said. “I think it’s an important issue and deserves to be heard.”