Celia G. Gamrath
Celia G. Gamrath

A ride-sharing driver won’t get an emergency exemption to the statewide requirement to wear face coverings in public spaces, a Cook County judge ruled Friday.

Cook County Circuit Judge Celia G. Gamrath rejected driver Justin Mahwikizi’s request for a temporary restraining order that would prevent the state from enforcing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s emergency order order against him.

Under the April 30 executive order, individuals in Illinois must wear face coverings when social distancing guidelines cannot be practiced in public spaces.

Under Section 1.1 of the order, drivers and passengers would need to wear face coverings while in ride-share vehicles.

”While the [c]ourt sympathizes with Mahwikizi’s concerns and fear about COVID-19 safety measures and restrictions, an injunction will not issue to allay mere fears,” Gamrath wrote in the seven-page order. “Moreover, the balance of hardships weighs considerably against issuing an injunction, and weighs in favor of Governor Pritzker and his effort to protect the public at large.”

Mahwikizi, who contracts with services like Uber and Lyft, filed the case in Cook County Circuit Court on May 6.

He contends wearing a face covering while driving could lead to his losing consciousness and potentially colliding with other drivers.

He also argued he could be harmed by a rideshare passenger who objects to the face covering rules, of that he could be targeted by gangs for unknowingly wearing a certain covering.

Unconvinced by Mahwikizi’s “perceived harms,” Gamrath wrote the first scenario “is purely speculative and unsupported by any specific facts,” and that Mahwikizi is “under no obligation to serve passengers who refuse to wear a face-covering, nor is he required to enforce the law by demanding a passenger wear a mask.”

Gamrath also reasoned that Mahwikizi could avoid the second and third hypotheticals by not working as a ride-share driver while the order was in place or by tailoring his coverage area to avoid areas that he feels unsafe driving in.

“While this may impact his rideshare route, the damage if any is monetary; it is far too remote and not irreparable to justify extraordinary injunctive relief on an emergency basis,” Gamrath wrote.

Mahwikizi’s suit also asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment that Pritzker’s emergency powers under the Illinois Emergency Management Act expired April 8, or 30 days after he issued his March 9 disaster proclamation.

Gamrath rejected that argument, holding the IEMA Act gives Pritzker authority to extend his power beyond an initial 30-day period without approval from the legislature.

The 30-day limit, Gamrath wrote, only applies more strictly to a “discrete event — one that stops and starts in a relatively short amount of time.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, she wrote, “is not a discrete or isolated disaster. It is a dynamic pandemic, still ongoing.”

“This continuing disaster poses a threat that is underway and has not abated as quickly as a more typical natural disaster like an earthquake or tornado,” Gamrath wrote. ”When an emergency epidemic of disease occurs and a pandemic ensues, the [g]overnor has authority under the [a]ct to utilize emergency powers beyond a single 30-day period to protect the community and residents of the [s]tate.”

Gamrath further held that enjoining enforcement of the order would place other essential workers and ride-share passengers at risk of spreading and contracting the virus, which face coverings are meant to prevent.

It would also “affect critical funding for Illinois and limit implementation of additional necessary measures that axe necessary components of the [s]tate’s efforts to combat COVID-19,” she wrote.

“This [c]ourt does not discount Mahwikizi’s personal concerns and fears. However, Executive Order 2020-32 is a legitimate exercise of the [g]overnor’s power to protect the public health and safety of lllinoisans,” Gamrath wrote. “Sometimes individual rights have to give way to the health safety and protection of the public at large.”

Mahwikizi, who represented himself, said in an email that he expected the TRO request to be denied but that he wanted to challenge Pritzker’s order because it disrupted the status-quo.

“It negated the practicality of every day life, especially the various balancing acts rideshare service providers go through everyday to make sure they get home safely,” Mahwikizi said. “The mask mandate puts rideshare providers at great medical and bodily harm risks.”

He plans to appeal the ruling.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office could not be reached for comment.

This case is Justin Mahwikizi v. Governor Jay Robert Pritzker, 20 CH 4089.