Indiana News

BBQ restaurant sues Gov. Holcomb, county health department over mask mandate

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WISH) — A Hoosier restaurant that was shut down over the state’s mask mandate is suing Gov. Eric Holcomb, the state government and the Wells County Health Department.

It’s believed to be the first lawsuit filed over the governor’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Matt Yergler, the owner of Yergy’s State Road BBQ, has a position that’s pretty clear. He does not believe the science behind wearing a mask and does not believe the governor has the authority to mandate wearing one without the state legislature’s backing.

The lawsuit challenges the executive order requiring masks to be worn in Yergy’s and other restaurants. In addition to a storefront in Bluffton, a town in Wells County about 40 minutes south of Fort Wayne, Yergler also owns a food truck in Bluffton.

After several warnings from Wells County Health Department, it shut down Yergy’s on Aug. 28.

“We complied to every executive order, every standard that the health department put on us all the way to the mask mandate,” Yergler said.

Yergler said that’s where he draws the line.

“If you wanted a mask, you could wear it,” he said. “If you don’t want to wear a mask, you don’t have to wear a mask. That’s the position we took.”

He said compared to other health department regulations — such as handwashing and proper temperature control for chicken, which he agrees with — he doesn’t believe the science accepted by state and federal officials is clear.

He also said it’s a matter of religious conviction. He doesn’t believe masks help stop the spread of the virus and he doesn’t want to bear false witness to his customers.

His lawsuit also states it’s irrational and arbitrary for his employees to be required to wear a mask when his customers are not required to wear one at all times.

“This is about tyranny. This is about government overreach infringing upon the liberty of all Hoosiers,” Yergler said.

The lawsuit also challenges the governor’s orders on constitutional grounds. Yergler believes, without backing from the legislature, the executive orders have lasted too long for a pandemic that began almost a year ago.

If the legislature enacted a mandate, he’d put on a mask.

“If it became law, then we are obligated to follow the law of the land,” Yergler said.

The Republican governor issued a simple reply to Yergler’s assertion: “We do our homework before we create executive orders. I’m confident in my authority to set in place requirements that save Hoosier lives.”

Yergler is confident, too. “We believe what the governor has done is unconstitutional and we want to get it before a judge.”

The Wells County Health Department and the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association declined to comment about the lawsuit. It was filed this week and, so far, no hearing has been set.

Once the case is resolved or the mandate is lifted, Yergler said he hopes to reopen. Until then, he’s working a seasonal job to help make ends meet.

If you want to aid in his legal fight, he said you can send checks or money orders to his restaurant at 1415 S. Main St., Bluffton, IN 46714.

Indiana State Department of Health on Thursday reported 79 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 6,860. The department also said 6,458 more Hoosiers tested positive for the virus. A total of 447,190 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19.