SJC dismisses challenge to state mask mandate
Says case is moot since order was lifted
THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the statewide mask mandate, agreeing with state and local officials that the case is moot because the mandate has been lifted.
The case centers on Arianna Murrell, the owner of a Lynn tax preparation business, Liberty Tax Service, who banned the wearing of masks inside her business while the statewide mask mandate was in effect. After city officials received several complaints, Lynn’s health inspector fined Murrell, then ordered the business to close. A Superior Court judge upheld the city’s actions, but Murrell appealed. Murrell argued that federal workplace safety laws preempt Gov. Charlie Baker’s authority to impose a mask mandate on businesses.
The state mask mandate on businesses was lifted May 28, 2021, while the appeal was pending.
The court, in a unanimous decision written by Justice Elspeth Cypher, ruled that since the mask mandate expired, the case is moot. “All that is left is for us to invest valuable judicial resources in settling a ‘hypothetical dispute,’” Cypher wrote.
Murrell had asked the court to decide whether the mask mandate was allowed, both because it could affect her pending court appeal of the fines and because Baker could theoretically reimpose a mask mandate.
Cypher wrote that it was not the court’s role to decide the constitutional question solely because it might affect Murrell’s District Court appeal of the fines.
The idea that Baker might reimpose a mask mandate is “speculative,” Cypher wrote, and “overlooks the changes in both the factual and legal landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic.” She wrote that the mask mandate was imposed early in the pandemic when few other protective measures existed, and now, the availability of vaccines, tests, and treatments creates a different environment.The US Supreme Court recently indicated that OSHA’s authority to issue COVID-19 regulations may be limited, changing the legal arguments that would have been at issue in this case.