Arizona Judge Upholds Covid Closure Orders for Gyms, Bars

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus data at a June 25 news conference in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

(CN) — An Arizona judge refused to block Governor Doug Ducey’s temporary closure of bars, gyms, water parks, and movie theaters in a ruling released Tuesday.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy J. Thomason rejected arguments by Mountainside Fitness for an injunction against the closure order, acknowledging the company’s losses during a two-month closure that will now extend to at least July 27.

“The only damage, however, is lost money,” Thomason wrote. “This is not irreparable.”

Mountainside, which operates 18 gyms in the metropolitan Phoenix area, sued Ducey on June 30, the day after he ordered gyms closed. The fitness chain claimed the closure violates the Arizona Constitution because there was no opportunity for a public hearing and that it arbitrarily lumped gyms together with water parks, bars and movie theaters.

Attorney Joel Sannes of Udall Shumway is representing Mountainside in the lawsuit. He said the government has a lot of leeway in cases like this, which made winning the injunction an uphill climb.

“It was a very difficult burden for us to overcome,” Sannes said.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, said in a statement that the court’s ruling was expected.

“This issue is about protecting public health and containing the spread of Covid-19. While none of these decisions are easy, we appreciate the sacrifices that are being made in the interest of public health. Businesses need to comply with the public health orders and we ask all individuals continue to make smart decisions, wear a mask, and stay home as much as possible,” Ptak said.

Arizona topped 105,000 confirmed cases Tuesday with 1,917 total deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services. Hospital capacity is strained, with Covid-19 patients occupying 3,356 of the state’s 7,909 beds, and 90% of intensive care beds filled, the state reported.

The number of Covid-19 cases jumped across the state since Ducey lifted his stay-at-home order in mid-May when fewer than 800 Covid-19 patients were in Arizona hospitals, and the number of deaths hovered around 20 daily. On Tuesday, the state reported 117 new deaths.

Mountainside argued that Ducey’s latest order promised an appeal process that the state Department of Health Services never put in place. Thomason acknowledged that such a “post-deprivation” process should be there.

Ducey started lifting the state’s mid-March closure order on April 29, when he allowed non-essential businesses to reopen if they implemented Covid-19 prevention measures, such as social distancing and masks for staff. On May 20, the governor permitted gyms to open.

Then on June 29, with Covid-19 spreading rapidly through the state, Ducey reversed course, shuttering gyms, bars, water parks and indoor movie theaters until July 27.

While planning to open, Mountainside bought sanitizing equipment, changed the layouts of its gyms, trained employees, and altered schedules to keep down the number of people inside at any given time.

In his ruling, Thomason called the fitness center operator a “good citizen” that went above and beyond expected measures to protect the public and its employees.

Thomason sympathized with the company, its employees, and more than 90,000 customers and recognized that the company may have been disproportionately hurt.

“Sympathy, however, is not a relevant consideration of the court,” Thomason wrote in a statement attached to the ruling.

Mountainside will now work with the state to find a fair resolution for the company, which is not eligible for Covid-19 relief funds because it has too many employees, Sannes said.

“We’re absolutely going to continue discussions,” he said.

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