Arizona Gym Loses Lawsuit Against Governor's Shutdown Order

Posted: Jul 07, 2020 5:45 PM

Arizonans won’t be heading to the gym any time soon thanks to a ruling by the Maricopa County Superior Court on Tuesday. A judge denied Mountainside Fitness’s request for a restraining order blocking a recent executive order by Gov. Doug Ducey, which forced gyms to temporarily close for the second time due to COVID-19 concerns. 

While the court acknowledged that the hardships to Mountainside and others impacted by closures may have been “unfair,” it held that the gym did not sufficiently prove that the impact of being closed would be detrimental.  

“Certainly Mountainside was damaged greatly by the initial shutdown and is being damaged again by the latest temporary shutdown,” the ruling says. “The only damage, however, is lost money. This is not irreparable."

Mountainside Gym, which operates 18 fitness centers in Arizona, says its size makes it ineligible for federal aid like the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program. Since reopening after two months of being closed, the company has taken significant precautions to protect patrons, as the court noted in its reasoning. When the company received word that it had to close again but was not given an explanation, CEO Tom Hatten said he would be suing the governor for overreach and keeping his gyms open in the meantime, an announcement that was met with cheers from many gym-goers.

"This isn't just about health clubs,” Hatten said in a press conference last week. “It's about business and civil liberties.”

But the court ruled that the governor’s executive order was within his authority.

“We elect people. . . to deal with emergency situations such as this one,” the decision states. “People in high office must be given wide latitude in their decision making in emergency situations.”

Arizona has made national headlines for its spike in coronavirus cases, with some saying the state opened “too early” and blaming Gov. Ducey for not taking a stricter stance on the state’s response to the pandemic. Others, like Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs, have asserted that the frightening statistics lack important context that shows the situation is not as dire as some claim.  

In a statement on Twitter, the company acknowledged that it had lost the lawsuit and would close all its locations this afternoon with the intention of reopening July 27, when the order is set to be lifted.

There is one bright spot, however. Joel Sannes, the attorney for the company, said the judge’s wording gives fitness centers like Mountainside an opportunity to establish the reasons why they should be allowed to keep their doors open. That could have bearing on future cases if the pandemic continues.

“The significance of this ruling is that good citizens and good businesses are going to be able to establish a basis for being able to stay open, and that’s going to be a challenge to the state,” he said in a press conference following the decision. “It’s not going to be a simple process to implement the procedures that the executive order say will be adopted.”

Still, Sannes said there’s little chance they’ll be fighting the ruling again since the governor’s order is set to expire at the end of the month.

“I think it’s probably the case that we’re going to focus more on [reopening] July 27 than continuing to challenge this executive order,” he said.