ALBANY — An Amsterdam doctor said Monday he will withdraw his lawsuit against a Wilton butcher shop manager who refused to sell him a steak unless he donned a face mask.
Dr. David Kwiat said he accomplished his goal — raising public awareness about the mask mandates, which he opposes and which are now being dropped — and no longer needs court intervention.
The owner of the butcher shop said he looks forward to seeing formal notification of withdrawal of the “outrageous” and “frivolous” lawsuit, which he said has caused him and his manager considerable stress.
Kwiat filed the lawsuit in federal court on Feb. 11 seeking $250,000 in damages from Jason Houle, manager of the Primal, Your Local Butcher store on Route 50, alleging Houle had violated his constitutional rights with his mask-for-steak requirement and in so doing practiced medicine and law without a license for either.
Kwiat, an opthalmologist who lives in Saratoga County and practices in the town of Amsterdam, also sought empanelment of a grand jury to consider various federal and state charges, some of them felonies, against Houle.
The case stems from a brief interaction at Primal on Dec. 17 that both men describe as polite on both sides. Kwiat, who was not wearing a mask, tried to buy a steak.
Houle refused to make the sale unless Kwiat covered his nose and mouth. He was enforcing the policy of his employer and complying with a mask mandate on businesses issued by Gov. Kathy Hochul amid the largest surge of COVID-19 yet in the two-year pandemic.
Houle said he offered Kwiat the opportunity to phone in an order from the parking lot and have an employee carry it out. Kwiat denies such an offer was made, but says he wouldn’t have accepted it if it had.
Houle’s impression was that Kwiat was trying to make a point rather than buy a steak, Houle said. Kwiat made no mention of steak in an emailed statement Monday, but did say he was trying to raise awareness.
The statement reads:
“Yesterday mask mandates were lifted in New York State including schools. Protecting our children from abuse and educating the public about their rights was the main goal in pursuing this legal action. As previously stated but ignored or distorted, there was never an intent to collect judgment from the opposing party although the intended effect to grab the public’s attention was successful. This suit is being withdrawn as the cause has been cured and the Court’s influence is no longer needed.”
In a phone interview last week with this newspaper, Kwiat indicated the case was about establishing that the mask rule is unconstitutional, more than it was about money. He did not say he wasn’t trying to collect a judgment, and his court papers do specify $250,000 in damages sought from Houle.
Kevin Wickert, owner of Primal, was going to pay to defend Houle against the lawsuit.
But he hadn’t started to mount a defense yet, waiting instead to see if his insurer would pay for a defense, which the insurer initially did not, because this was not a tangible “incident” such as a slip and fall on a floor.
Because Wickert hasn’t responded to the lawsuit, he’s not on the notification list for developments in the case, such as it being withdrawn.
”That would be wonderful news if we get it,” Wickert said Monday.
He said he didn’t appreciate his butcher shop being made a testing ground for constitutional questions, and said the attempt to do so put him and Houle and their families through a lot of stress.
“It’s very unnerving, no matter how frivolous it appears to the rest of the world,” he said.
Kwiat represented himself in the lawsuit.