IssuesLocal NewsHistoric Gage Hotel Sues County Judge, Claiming Coronavirus Order Is Unconstitutional

The owner of the historic Gage Hotel has sued the Brewster County judge after hotels were required to close down during the coronavirus pandemic.
April 28, 2020
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The Gage Hotel, a historical landmark in the tiny west Texas town of Marathon, has hosted guests traveling to the Big Bend region in its Spanish-style building since 1927.

But now the Gage has fallen on hard times due to the coronavirus shutdowns. 

Owner J.P. Bryan has filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Texas against Brewster County Judge Eleazar R. Cano for violating his equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 

Bryan states in the suit that the “Gage Hotel has been a principal source of income for Marathon,” a town of less than 500 people, and a “major income generator for Brewster County, Texas.”

Besides accommodations, the Gage Hotel features the Gage Spa, the beautifully-manicured Gage Gardens, the White Buffalo Bar serving famous margaritas, and the award-winning, Texas-inspired 12 Gage Restaurant, with its logo featuring two twelve-gauge shotguns.

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In March, Cano issued and the commissioners court approved a disaster declaration order requiring all hotels to close and vacate their guests except for military, emergency service personnel, health care professionals, and guests that use the hotel as a primary residence.

Governor Abbott’s executive orders have not mandated the closure of hotels, Bryan points out in his complaint. 

At the time of the order, there were no cases of COVID-19 reported in Brewster County or several surrounding counties. According to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services coronavirus dashboard, there are still no reported cases of COVID-19 in Brewster County, the largest county by area in the state. 

The lawsuit accuses Cano of treating the Gage Hotel differently from other businesses in Brewster County that are allowed to continue providing goods and services to visitors from outside the county.

Additionally, Bryan contends that those military and emergency personnel from outside the county who are allowed to rent rooms at the Gage Hotel are just as likely to be spread COVID-19 as other visitors from outside the county. The lawsuit points out that this inconsistent application of the law is irrational and unconstitutional. 

The plaintiff also argues that, with no reported cases in the county, Cano did not present any evidence of an imminent threat of the spread of COVID-19 in Brewster County at the time his disaster declaration was issued. The Texas Government Code section 418.004 requires that there be an “occurrence or imminent threat of widespread…damage, injury, or loss of life.”

Built in 1927 by cattle rancher Alfred Gage as a headquarters for his ranching operations, the building was designed by famous El Paso architect Henry Trost.  

The Gage Hotel has hosted famous visitors during its history, including Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Western novelist Zane Grey is said to have penned his most famous book while staying in one of the rooms.

Bryan purchased the hotel in 1978 and has worked to restore its reputation and recognition in Marathon and the Big Bend region. It has been ranked highly by Texas Highways magazine and Conde Nast.  

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.