Ohio Court Rules Forced Closure of Gyms Unconstitutional

While Gov. DeWine said that gyms may reopen on May 26 following certain health and safety protocols, Judge Eugene Lucci's ruling means that no one can enforce the closure any longer

May 20, 2020 at 3:58 pm
click to enlarge Ohio Court Rules Forced Closure of Gyms Unconstitutional
Photo: Danielle Cerullo

A collection of 35 independent Ohio gyms sued the Ohio Department of Health and its director Dr. Amy Acton for enforcing the closure of fitness centers during the state's Stay Safe Ohio order. Cincinnati's Iron Plate GymEvolution Fitness & Lifestyle Management and Gracie Cincinnati Jiu-Jitsu training center are included in the list of plaintiffs.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law — a nonprofit and nonpartisan firm based in Columbus — said that Dr. Acton's updated April 30 stay at home order "opens, or provides a pathway to opening, many Ohio industries, but leaves gyms closed indefinitely without regard to whether gyms are capable of operating safely."

The complaint says Dr. Acton's order is "impermissibly vague" and that the use of the health department's powers to "criminalize gyms that could otherwise comply with each of the safety regulations articulated in the April 30, 2020 Order violates operators’ right to equal protection."

“The Ohio Constitution requires greater scrutiny of vague and discriminatory enactments that trample Ohioans’ property rights. Ohio gyms are capable of operating safely, and have the right to operate on equal terms with other Ohio businesses. Once gyms have opened, we are committed to ensuring that these arbitrary policies never recur,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson in a release.

And a judge in the court of common pleas in Lake County, Ohio agrees with the plaintiffs.

Wednesday morning, Judge Eugene Lucci enjoined Gov. DeWine and Dr. Acton from “imposing or enforcing penalties solely for non-compliance with the director’s order” against gymnasiums, health clubs, fitness centers, gyms, and workout facilities, says the 1851 Center in a release.

The ruling says the Stay at Home, amended Stay at Home and Stay Safe Ohio orders "on their face and as applied" violate Article I, sections 1, 2, 16, 19 and 20, and Article II, Section I of the Ohio Constitution. 

Judge Lucci also ruled that "private property rights are fundamental rights in Ohio, and that the Ohio Department of Health has both violated those rights and exceeded its own authority in 'criminalizing lawful businesses, and imposing strict liability for violations, including severe criminal, civil, and equitable penalties': 'The director has no statutory authority to close all businesses, including the plaintiffs’ gyms . . . She has acted in an impermissibly arbitrary, unreasonable, and oppressive manner without any procedural safeguards,' " according to the center.

“Constitutions are written to prevent governments from arbitrarily interfering in citizens’ lives and businesses. On that front, the call to action is clear: the Governor and Health Director may no longer impose their own closures and regulations and write their own criminal penalties to enforce those regulations and closures,” said the 1851 Center's Thompson. 

You can read the full ruling here.

While Gov. DeWine ordered that gyms may reopen on May 26 following these protocols, Judge Lucci's ruling means that no one can enforce the closure any longer. 

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