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Florida lawsuits challenging local mask mandates not gaining traction in court

An employee wearing a protective face covering (right) monitors the flow of customers Wednesday, June 17, 2020, at an Apple retail store along Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, Fla.

(The Center Square) – Palm Beach County can require people to wear facemasks in public places during a pandemic without violating anyone’s constitutional rights, a state judge ruled in tossing out another legal challenge to mandatory mask orders in Florida.

Judge John Kastrenakes of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court upheld Palm Beach County’s mandatory mask order, one of about a dozen emergency ordinances that have been targeted in lawsuits claiming the measures represent unconstitutional overreach by local governments.

Palm Beach County’s emergency ordinance was challenged in a June 30 lawsuit filed by four county residents who said it infringes on their constitutional rights to free speech and privacy.

Not so, Kastrenakes ruled.

“Constitutional rights and the ideals of limited government do not absolve a citizen from the real-world consequences of their individual choices, or otherwise allow them to wholly skirt their social obligation to their fellow Americans or to society as a whole,” he wrote. “This is particularly true when one’s individual choices can result in drastic, costly, and sometimes deadly, consequences to others.”

Kastrenakes said a local government is within its rights to require a mask to protect the public during a pandemic.

“We do not have a constitutional right to infect others,” he said.

Kastrenakes’ ruling “pav(ed) the way for continued government tyranny under the guise of disease prevention in Palm Beach County,” plaintiffs’ attorney, Louis Leo IV, posted on Facebook.

Leo said he will appeal the decision before the District Court of Appeals.

In addition to nine lawsuits challenging mandatory mask orders across Florida by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, legal claims against local ordinances have also been filed in Miami-Dade, Broward and Martin counties.

Sabatini filed the Martin County lawsuit on behalf of James P. Crocker, owner of Hog Technologies, a multi-national firm headquartered in Stuart.

“Plaintiff’s reasonable expectation of privacy has been invaded and infringed by Martin County,” the lawsuit states, “which is forcing [Crocker] and other Martin County residents to wear a mask for a majority of the day.”

Sabatini has filed similar lawsuits challenging mask mandates in Seminole, Orange, Leon and Hillsborough counties and in the cities of St. Augustine, Deland and Jacksonville.

On July 10, Circuit Judge John Cooper rejected Sabatini’s constitutional arguments, including his claim that the ordinance violates privacy rights, in denying the challenge to Leon County’s June 23 mask ordinance.

Cooper cited evidence that facemasks can help prevent COVID-19 spread and said the ordinance has a “valid basis” to protect public health.

“I find that this ordinance does not violate any constitutional rights,” he said.

Cooper questioned Sabatini about other government mandates, such as vaccination for schoolchildren and laws that “tell people whether they can smoke in their own business.”

Sabatini said smoking bans are different than an ordinance that deals with what people “attach to your face.”

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