(The Center Square) – In a unanimous decision, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a contempt of court order against Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther.
Luther made national headlines last year after being sentenced to jail for reopening her salon during a state-imposed COVID-19 shutdown so, she said, that she and her staff could feed their families. Luther violated a state and local order that prohibited hair salons and other “non-essential” businesses from being open while big-box and other retail stores were allowed to remain open.
Last May, Dallas Democratic District Judge Eric Moyé sentenced Luther to seven days in jail and $7,000 in fines for contempt of court for violating a temporary restraining order after she refused to close her salon or apologize for reopening it.
In response to national outrage, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick paid her legal fees and Gov. Greg Abbott amended his executive order by removing jail time for those who did not comply as punishment.
Luther petitioned the Texas Supreme Court, arguing she was illegally restrained because the temporary restraining order was void and unconstitutional. The court ordered her released from confinement on personal bond pending the final disposition of the case. Nearly one year later, the court ruled on April 9 that the Dallas judge’s order was void. It granted Luther’s petition for writ of habeas corpus and ordered that Luther remain discharged from custody.
“We now conclude that the temporary restraining order failed to set forth the conduct required and the legal basis for its issuance in clear, specific, and unambiguous terms. Accordingly, we hold that the temporary restraining order was void, making the Contempt Judgment based on that order void as well,” the ruling states.
The court stated that Moyé’s ruling was too vague, and Luther never should have gone to jail: “The temporary restraining order here does not cite any statute, order, or regulation explicitly stating that a violation would justify the issuance of an injunction. Instead, it generally cites ‘State of Texas, Dallas County, and/or City of Dallas emergency regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic’ without specifying which of them Luther violated.”
In response, Luther said she and her attorneys were pleased with the court’s ruling, although she is still engaged in a legal battle with the city of Dallas. She also warned, “What happened to me can happen again. Lawmakers need to protect business owners from busybody bureaucrats, not whitewash pandemic power grabs, empowering similar behavior in the future.”
Luther pointed to bills moving through the state Legislature, House Bill 3, proposed by Republican state Rep. Dustin Burrows, and Senate Bill 6, proposed by nine state lawmakers, spearheaded by Sen. Kelly Hancock, that would potentially codify federal health guidelines requiring Texas businesses to implement double-masking and other protocols they otherwise would not implement.