City of Lynn wins in lawsuit against Liberty Tax service
Judy Phillips, right, and Chris Dirico work hard to bring customers into Liberty Tax Service on Lewis St in Lynn. (Julia Hopkins)
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LYNN — The city has won its lawsuit against a Liberty Tax Service franchise that was charged with flouting COVID-19 restrictions.
An Essex Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city Monday, declaring that the Lewis Street tax services agency must close immediately to comply with a cease-and-desist order filed by the Lynn Board of Health on March 17.
The City of Lynn filed an emergency motion in Superior Court on April 23 seeking to prohibit Liberty Tax Service from operating in a way that puts employees and the public at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The city also said that Liberty Tax Service refused to comply with two emergency COVID-19 orders issued by Gov. Charlie Baker, including a face mask requirement, and failed to comply with the cease-and-desist order.
Liberty Tax Service has a “No Masks Allowed” sign on the front door, and employees confiscate face masks upon entry. Franchise owner Ariana Murell-Rosario explained the practice as part of her belief that wearing masks can spread sexually-transmitted infections.
Murrell-Rosario argued against the complaint, saying that Lynn has no authority to enforce the emergency orders because the orders, and the accompanying regulations, are preempted by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970.
With its decision on Monday, the court put a pause on the ruling until two questions are certified by the state appeals court, so the court order will not be in effect until the appeals court rules.
The two questions put forth ask if the court’s ruling that Liberty Tax should be shut down was based on the public’s interest, as well as whether the court was correct saying that Murrell-Rosario’s claim that the city has no authority to enforce the COVID-19 orders was not preempted.
In response to the court’s verdict on Monday, Murrell-Rosario said the ruling was interesting, but she does not plan on changing the way she operates her business. She said she plans to remain open until the appeals court renders a decision.
“We’re still open for business and we’re ready to serve the community,” she said. “We are fully aware of this process, but it may just become a moot issue by the time the process is over, if they lift the state of emergency.”
The suit also states that Liberty Tax Service insisted on holding gatherings of people inside the office with no social distancing, face masks or any sort of air filtration or circulation.
The city stated in its lawsuit that the business has received numerous complaints from members of the public visiting that establishment, who stated that they felt they were deliberately put in danger by Murrell-Rosario.
Murrell-Rosario disagreed, saying her business is safe, which she claims to know for a fact because none of her employees have contracted COVID-19, nor have there been any cases traced back to her business.
Police reportedly visited the establishment multiple times to inform Murrell-Rosario of the face mask mandate and COVID-19 workplace safety regulations. Law enforcement continuously examined the business for this reason, the city said.
As a result, the establishment has received multiple warning fines totaling about $1,400.
The city said Murrell-Rosario’s establishment has “not made any changes to its operation and continues to operate in a willfully non-compliant manner.”
The city also said the business received ample time and opportunity to comply with public health directives.
Allysha Dunnigan can be reached at email@example.com.