Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit submitted on behalf of Alma-based entrepreneur Stephen Collins, who claims that a law authorizing millions in COVID-19 relief payments to minority businesses discriminates against him because he's white. Weiser's response, filed after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on October 12, disputes any claims of bias in part by noting that all of the qualified applicants for the grant received one no matter their ethnicity — including Collins.
"At present, the relief payments program is undersubscribed, meaning there are fewer qualified applicants than available funds," he wrote. "As a result, every applicant who applied for a grant and met the eligibility criteria in the statute will receive a grant," as long as the application fits the program guidelines established by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT).
"The preference for minority-owned businesses challenged by Plaintiffs in this lawsuit was not a factor in any decision to award or not award a grant," Weiser continued. "Additionally, none of the businesses receiving a grant qualify as a disproportionately impacted business solely because they are a minority-owned business. Nor did any business fail to qualify for an award on the grounds that it was not a minority-owned business. In other words, the applicants’ race played no role in any of OEDIT’s funding decisions."
The named defendant in the lawsuit is Patrick Meyers, OEDIT's executive director. Collins, who operates Resort Meeting Source LLC, which specializes in event planning, is represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, which previously challenged Senate Bill 20B-001, passed during the so-called "extraordinary" legislative session in December 2020, on behalf of Colorado Springs barber Etienne Hardre. That case was rejected as "unripe"; according to Cornell Law School, a claim is unripe when "the facts of the case have matured into an existing substantial controversy warranting judicial intervention."
Weiser's motion to dismiss makes a sharp reference to the previous claim's failure, pointing out that the court had reasoned that "plaintiffs would not have suffered any injury from the minority-owned business criteria or the preference because it would not be those provisions that prevented them from seeking economic assistance."
Also submitted by the state on October 13 was a declaration from Michael Landes, OEDIT's opportunity zone and special projects director. After detailing the criteria used by the agency, the motion states that earlier this month, officials "determined that Resort Meeting Source and ten other businesses were eligible for the first round of relief payments."
Moreover, it continues, "this decision was made prior to the initiation of this lawsuit, and the lawsuit played no role in the determination that Resort Meeting Source qualified for an award."
The motion doesn't specifically accuse Collins and Pacific Legal Foundation of filing the lawsuit purely for political reasons, but that's the clear implication of the closing passage: "Plaintiffs have to be injured to maintain a lawsuit against Defendants. They are not injured — they are receiving exactly what they want. They thus have no standing to seek prospective relief and their case is moot. Their complaint should be dismissed and the temporary restraining order dissolved."
Click to read the motion to dismiss, the declaration of Michael Landes, Stephen E. Collins v. Patrick Meyers, the October 12 order, Etienne Hardre v. Betsy Markey, and Senate Bill 20B-001.