Virginia farm owner sues Gov. Northam for extending coronavirus lockdown

'It's such a blatant violation of civil liberties'

A Loudon, Virginia-based bed-and-breakfast sued Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday for keeping small businesses closed as states approach four months of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

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Northam announced last week that the state could begin Phase Two of its reopening plan — which includes hospitality and dining establishments — but ordered Northern Virginia and the city of Richmond to remain in Phase One. Businesses in these areas have been further shuttered due to protests and riots that have taken place since the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who was killed in police custody on May 25.

Jon Tigges, owner of Zion Springs, a bed-and-breakfast and event space located on a 24-acre farm in Loudon, has collected zero revenue in three months and is now demanding Northam allow Northern Virginia businesses to reopen as part of Phase Two with the rest of the state.

Jon Tigges (left) outside the Supreme Court of Virginia. (Jon Tigges)

"I'm putting my last bit of cash into this lawsuit because it's our only chance to survive," Tigges told FOX Business. "That's how serious it is for us. I don't want to look back and realize that when we had a chance to do something, we just rolled over and waited for the governor to open up Virginia. Hopefully, the courts will rule on what is constitutional."

Northam's office did not respond to FOX Business' email request for comment at the time of publication"

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Tigges' business, like many others in Northern Virginia, relies on in-person experiences to stay open, but because of the state's ongoing lockdown restrictions, customers who had scheduled weddings and events with more than the state's 50-person gathering limit, with guests planning to come from around the world, have canceled their plans into November and December.

Zion Springs (Jon Tigges)

Wineries and restaurants in the area have been devastated by the ongoing restrictions, Tigges said, adding that one size does not fit all in terms of regulations and fines.

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"A 24-acre barn shouldn't be treated the same way as a bar in Alexandria," he said.

Zion Springs (Jon Tigges)

Chap Petersen, a Democratic state senator who has been loyal to Northam and even defended the governor when a controversial photo from his college days resurfaced, is now representing Tigges and other business owners in the lawsuit.

"The council who represents me, Chad Petersen, is a sitting Democrat senator," Tigges said. "He is personal friends with Northam ... but he is so opposed to these abuses that he's put his political career at stake. It's an encouraging note to see a bipartisan approach to this [issue] that even a sitting Democrat is willing to go to bat against his own party."

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Hundreds of protesters have taken part in demonstrations in cities across the country, including the Arlington and Richmond areas of Virginia, in recent weeks as states begin to reopen, leading some to question whether the country will see a second wave of COVID-19 cases. More than 20 states have already reported spikes in overall cases.

Richmond Police Chief William Smith, center, takes a knee along with protesters as he attempts to address a large crowd in front of City Hall, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Virginia has reported 51,251 confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, reaching its highest number of confirmed cases in a single day, hitting more than 1,600 on May 26 as testing efforts ramp up across the country. Loudon County has recorded 2,529, or 5 percent, of those 51,251 confirmed cases as of Thursday. Fairfax County, by contrast, has recorded 10,906 confirmed cases.

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Tigges thinks that if a second wave is coming in the near future, business owners and employees shouldn't be forced to remain closed.

"If we have a relapse, we need to once again quarantine the vulnerable and elderly and allow others to go on with their lives," he said. "We've burned down the whole village to save it. That's not how you run a commonwealth. ... It's such a blatant violation of civil liberties under the Virginia constitution."

Zion Springs (Jon Tigges)

He added that as a former military service member, he's "traveled all over the world fighting for freedom" but never imagined he'd be fighting for it in his own backyard for himself and on behalf of other business owners in the area.

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An April 28 study by small business solutions website Womply found that more than 50 percent of small businesses like Zion Springs said they would not survive if they make no sales over the course of one to three months; 21 percent said they wouldn't last beyond one month of no sales.

The study also found that lodging places had an 18 percent closure rate based on credit card transaction data.

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