Update: On August 21, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Manhattan and covering federal courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, granted a stay of the preliminary injunction discussed below, upon a motion filed on behalf of the State. This stay effectively lifts the preliminary injunction which itself lifted the 50-person limit for “non-essential” functions such as weddings. That is, the 50-person limit is still in force and will remain in place until the appeal filed by the State can be decided. For now, our advice remains that couples looking to marry and wedding venues should be cautious in scheduling their events.
Many saw a federal court decision issued on August 7, 2020, as a welcome development that would allow weddings to proceed with more than 50 guests throughout New York State. However, the position taken by State officials has created uncertainty and confusion. Further court proceedings are needed to bring some much needed clarity. Click here for the full decision.
Pursuant to Executive Order 202.45, issued on June 26, 2020, non-essential gathering, to include weddings, were limited to no more than 50 people. The argument made by the couples in their suit against the State was that wedding ceremonies were being treated differently than general indoor dining at the same venue. Dining is not currently limited to 50 people, but rather to the higher limit of 50% of capacity.
In agreeing with the couples, the Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of New York, ruled that these wedding ceremonies should be permitted to proceed subject to the 50% capacity limit, provided that all other Covid-19 related directives applicable to restaurants, such as social distancing and mask wearing, are followed.
In response, however, New York State officials have taken the position that this ruling only applies to the two couples involved in that case, while also appealing the decision. Their concern is that allowing these weddings to proceed at the higher capacity will create “super-spreader” events as the nature of personal interactions at weddings is vastly different to those between groups of diners at the same restaurant. The State has indicated that weddings proceeding at higher capacity on the basis of this ruling will be considered in violation of the June 26th Executive Order, with the venue at risk of losing its liquor license.
While the courts this ruling would ordinarily have effect State-wide, the position taken by the State creates uncertainty for couples, and potential risks for venues that hold weddings at the higher capacity. Couples looking to marry should wait for the decision on the State’s appeal, which may be heard on an expedited basis, before looking to book a venue.
Couples should also consider the following advice:
- Book space, but ask for the contract to give you the right to cancel or downsize if the ruling is overturned on appeal or restrictions are tightened due to a second wave;
- Confirm that the venue has a safety plan and that it will be screening employees and contractors, and that it can comply with the appropriate Department of Health Guidance;
- Develop their own safety plan for the wedding, including seating arrangements that take into account guests with high risk conditions;
- Ensure guests know what you’re doing to keep them safe, and the importance of observing restrictions to keep everyone as safe as possible;
- Be sure to get the contact information needed to help the local health department contact guests if it’s necessary to alert them of exposure;
- Consider wedding themed gifts for guests, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
Regardless of the outcome of this case, Jacobowitz & Gubits, LLP, recommends that couples consider a pre-nuptial agreement in situations including where one or both parties have substantial separate assets, such as a business or a house in which you intend to reside as a couple after the wedding, or there are children from a prior relationship. Click here for more information on pre-nuptial agreements.
Jacobowitz & Gubits, LLP, is a full service law firm based in Walden, New York, and operating throughout the Hudson Valley.
This is not intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney for your specific situation.