BETHEL — A Superior Court Justice on Friday granted a temporary injunction against Sunday River Brewing Co., ordering it to remain closed until its licenses to operate are restored.

The ruling comes three days after the Department of Health and Human Services filed for the injunction in Oxford County Superior Court in Paris.

The ruling could lead to a renewed standoff between the state and business owner Rick Savage, who said earlier this week that he is prepared to go to prison as he continues his fight to keep his restaurant on Sunday River Road open.

Savage made the comment Wednesday on the Fox News talk show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Asked what he would do if a judge orders him to keep his restaurant closed, Savage said he would remain open and face the consequences.

Rick Savage makes doughnuts in the kitchen of his Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel on May 1 to prepare for reopening his restaurant to the public in defiance of the state order. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I guess I’ll sleep in a prison cell for a while,” Savage said.

If Savage violates the injunction, he could face criminal charges.

In his interview with Carlson, Savage suggested that the court action taken against him is a result of his defiance of Gov. Janet Mills’ executive orders, which she issued in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re trying to make me an example because I defied her order,” Savage said. “If they want to make me an example, they can come after me.”

Savage has kept the restaurant open even after state officials suspended his health license earlier in the month.

In his ruling, Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon wrote that the risk to the public if Sunday River Brewing stays open justifies the injunction.

“… based on the evidence received to date, the injury to the public outweighs any harm which granting injunctive relief would inflict on defendant,” McKeon wrote. “The harm to defendant is that it will not be able to operate, at least in the short term, losing revenue. Although this will have a financial impact on the defendant, it does not outweigh the injury that continued operation causes to the public’s interest in the enforceability of the department’s licensing requirements.”

But Savage insisted Friday that he’s not keeping the restaurant open because he worries about losing money. He said he’s not doing it for himself, but for other small businesses around the state that don’t have the clout to stand up to government officials.

“I don’t have to do this,” he said. “We’re doing this for other people in the state of Maine.”

According to the ruling, Savage has received written notice about the injunction. Because Sunday River Brewing had to respond on short notice, McKeon wrote, the court will “expeditiously schedule a full hearing” in accordance with court rules regarding injunctions.

The 10-page court document filed by the DHHS earlier in the week outlines the history of Savage’s standoff with the state. According to the court complaint, Savage’s ongoing defiance is what compelled the DHHS to file for an injunction.

“The defendant has made no effort cooperate with the department to have its license reinstated,” according to the complaint, submitted by Attorney General Aaron M. Frey, “and has clearly communicated its intention to continue to operate with a suspended license.”

At the end of April, Savage went on Carlson’s talk show for the first time to declare that he planned to defy Mills’ order by reopening the restaurant he co-owns with his brother, Ron Savage.

Rick Savage made good on the promise, reopening to a large crowd a few days later. But when state health officials — the state public health inspector and two inspectors from the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations Division of Liquor Licensing Enforcement — went into his business and pulled his licenses, Savage announced that he was going to temporarily close again. But the restaurant later reopened and Savage himself made several public appearances to talk about the dispute.

“The defendant continues to operate its eating establishment and to offer dine-in service in a manner that poses a significant and immediate threat to public health, despite its license to do so having been suspended,” according to the DHHS complaint.

Savage said the injunction will not change his plans to keep the business open in defiance of the state orders.

“We’re still going to do whatever it is we need to do,” he said.

Savage also said he finds it ironic that so many small businesses around the state are not allowed to operate, yet big-box stores like Walmart and Home Depot remain open for business.

“I’ve got the same spacing in here as Walmart and everybody else,” he said. “I can be safer than them.”

After hearing that the injunction had been granted, Savage said he plans to file a lawsuit against Mills, the DHHS and a slew of others who have been fighting to shut down Sunday River Brewing.

“Everyone who messed with us is going to have a lawsuit on their hands,” Savage said. “It’s going to be with a pretty powerful attorney and we’re going to win.”

Savage said he has also been raising money to help other small businesses fight legal battles as they struggle to stay afloat while the governor’s executive orders remain in place. He said he’s heard from countless business owners, from Maine and other parts of the country, who support his efforts and who plan to likewise fight Mills’ orders.

“The state does not realize what a tinderbox they’ve got out there right now,” Savage said.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: