Miami Spring Break Curfew Pushes Restaurant Hotspot to Wage Lawsuit

March 28, 2022

Photo courtesy of The Real Deal

Miami natives are no stranger to the chaos that is Spring Break. They have also consequently become acutely familiar with the controversial curfews that Miami city government has annually enacted in an effort to quell Spring Break’s worst side effects. Time and time again, the inevitable violence that accompanies these celebrations has led the city to impose these weekend curfews for the safety of the people. According to NPR, this year is no different as there have already been more than “six incidents involving guns being shot and fired and [the] police department finding casings… [with] nine separate incidents where…officers [were] injured.” 

The Curfew 

Unsurprisingly, Miami City Manager Alina Hudak did in fact implement a citywide curfew from midnight to 6AM this morning. While the curfew effectively ended the night for businesses and party goers in the area, several groups – mainly residents, hotel guests, employees, and food delivery workers – were able to continue moving freely. Importantly, the curfew was bolstered by an alcohol sales ban, which went into effect on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday after 8PM. 

Although the curfew, and its repercussions, was nothing new to business owners in the area, many were not accepting it as silently as they have in prior years. The reasons, of course, vary but the common theme remains that the financial costs of such restrictions outweighs the risks associated with operating in the face of these aforementioned health and safety risks. Perhaps this is the reality, or perhaps this sentiment has just been strengthened by the pandemic’s lasting toll, but in any case it all comes together to explain why businesses would be looking forward to the Spring Break influx in business, even if the crowd stands in stark contrast to the area’s growing number of upscale establishments. 

The Lawsuit 

Ironically, the lawsuit at hand is being waged by one of those very upscale establishments – Papi Steak – which is hospitality mogul Dave Grutman’s latest Miami venture. While the restaurant’s lawyer, Coffey Burlington’s Paul Schwiep, reportedly hoped to obtain an emergency hearing on Thursday afternoon to ask for an injunction halting the curfew’s enactment, a lawsuit is now fully underway. 

According to the suit, the curfew is costing Papi Steak its key late-night business crowd, which is even more detrimental given the time of year. The suit specifically argues that the “Plaintiff derives significant revenue during the late-night hours between 10 PM and final closing between 2 AM or 3 AM. While Plaintiff is open seven days a week, its busiest nights are Thursday through Sunday nights…Particularly during the Spring Break season, which is an economically critical period for Miami Beach businesses.”

Moreover, the suit also targets the curfew’s seemingly “arbitrary” geographical constraints – due to it only applying to operations in the area south of 23rd Street and Dade Boulevard. Again, the suit argues that while the “Plaintiff fully understands and appreciates the City’s desire to ensure the safety of City residents and visitors in light of recent violent events, the Curfew is impermissibly overbroad and indiscriminately targets areas of the City that have been safe, secure and free from the violence … east of Collins Ave.” 

Significance 

While this latter point is technically true, given the “South of Fifth” area has historically been exempt from the front-page violence because it is populated by those aforementioned high-end institutions, it is ironic given Papi Steak was the setting of the most recent, highly-publicized public altercation in Miami between two UFC athletes.

Late night altercations aside, another reason why this year’s curfew has been met with intense backlash is due to its reportedly racist undertones, which the Papi Steak suit did not address. According to a number of media channels and critics commenting on the situation, the curfew appears to be a direct response to the large number of black Spring Breakers who are in Miami. While the crowd’s demographics were never explicitly cited by city officials, the city’s history of racial division paired with its police department’s increasingly violent conduct towards predominantly black crowds does not constitute the best foundation upon which to view this curfew as an arbitrary emergency order. In the words of Miami-Dade Black Advisory Board member Stepehen Hunter Johnson, “the only emergency is that black people are on the beach.” 

Next Steps

While the curfew technically expired this morning at 6AM, the city has yet to offer any comment on Papi Steak’s lawsuit. 

In the meantime, another restaurant – Treehouse Miami – has come forward with a lawsuit against the City of Miami over the curfew’s legality. In a comment given for NBC Miami, Treehouse Miami owner Michael Freunlich states, “[I feel as though] my business was being unnecessarily punished…the main issue I have is not only about the financial aspect, but they should have sat down with the business owners, over two or three days, and they should have said ‘Let’s come up with a plan.’” 

Spring break in MIA

  • Mayor Dan Gelber said the shootings came during a period when “tens of thousands of people” descend upon the city, creating an unwanted “young party-hard crowd.” 
  • ALINA HUDAK: We had over six incidents involving guns being shot and fired and our police department finding casings. We had nine separate incidents where we had officers injured.
  • The numbers are on track to match Spring Break from 2021. Of the 636 arrests in the South Beach Entertainment District, 508 were locals.
  • Also, more than 100 weapons have been seized.
  • Miami Beach’s mayor, Dan Gelber, has been leading a campaign to discourage spring breakers from coming here.
  • (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
  • DAN GELBER: We don’t ask for spring break. We don’t promote it. We don’t encourage it. We just endure it. And frankly, it’s not something we want to endure. We don’t want spring break.
  • ALLEN: Gelber wants to change the city’s image from an anything-goes party town to a more sedate, upscale destination for dining and entertainment. But this state of emergency, he says, is about public safety. NPR

The Situation 

  • A South Beach steakhouse is suing Miami Beach to block a midnight curfew from taking effect in the entertainment district Thursday night, calling it an “arbitrary” measure that will unfairly wipe out late-night sales in an area that hasn’t seen gunfire or large crowds. 

The Curfew 

  • The curfew, which runs each day from midnight until 6 a.m. through Monday morning, includes exceptions for Miami Beach residents and hotel guests coming and going, and for food delivery services and other employees traveling to and from work.
  • Miami Beach had an 8 p.m. curfew during spring break last year but it overlapped with a countywide midnight curfew tied to the COVID-19 pandemic — a public health response that had already survived court challenges.
  • Along with the midnight curfew, City Manager Alina Hudak’s order bans all alcohol sales in stores after 6 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The Lawsuit

  • Paul Schwiep, the Coffey Burlington lawyer representing Papi in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court suit, said he hoped to get an emergency hearing before a judge Thursday afternoon to ask for an injunction halting enactment of the curfew.
  • The suit said the curfew means losing the bustling late-night stream of customers for Papi, a restaurant backed by Miami Beach nightlife mogul David Grutman and his Groot Hospitality company. Turning them away in the middle of March causes even more damage, the suit said.
  • The lawsuit called the curfew “arbitrary” for selecting only a portion of the city for restrictions, the area south of 23rd Street and Dade Boulevard.
  • “While Plaintiff fully understands and appreciates the City’s desire to ensure the safety of City residents and visitors in light of recent violent events, the Curfew is impermissibly overbroad and indiscriminately targets areas of the City that have been safe, secure and free from the violence … east of Collins Ave.,” according to the lawsuit filed by Papi Steak, which operates at the southern tip of Miami Beach.
  • “Plaintiff derives significant revenue during the late-night hours between 10 PM and final closing between 2 AM or 3 AM. While Plaintiff is open seven days a week, its busiest nights are Thursday through Sunday nights,” the suit said. “Particularly during the Spring Break season, which is an economically critical period for Miami Beach businesses.”

Significance 

  • The lawsuit focuses on the relative calm in the “South of Fifth” area where the restaurant sells high-end steaks and bespoke cocktails. It comes days after a high-profile scuffle outside the restaurant Monday night, with UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal charged with battery for allegedly punching fellow UFC star Colby Covington.
  • The suit is the first known legal challenge to Miami Beach’s emergency order that forces most businesses to shut down to customers at midnight at the peak of tourism season in a resort city famous for its late-night scene. 
  • City leaders argue the action is needed to prevent the gunfire and hard-to-control crowds that gathered in the Ocean Drive area east of Collins last weekend. Critics call it an overreaction to an influx of largely Black visitors.

Moving forward

  • A city spokesperson said Miami Beach would not comment on the litigation.
  • The curfew technically ends on Monday but ALLEN: Miami Beach may extend the state of emergency and the curfew into next weekend if necessary. The good news, officials say, is that by their calendar, spring break has only one more week to go. NPR

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