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July 26, 2020

Atilis Gym forced to shut down again after violating New Jersey’s COVID-19 business restrictions

Superior Court judge found the Bellmawr, Camden County fitness center in contempt of court

Gyms Coronavirus
Atilis Gym Bellmawr Street View/Google

Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, Camden County has been in a two-months-long court battle with New Jersey over its COVID-19 restrictions.

Atilis Gym has been ordered to close its doors again after a New Jersey Superior Court judge found the Bellmawr, Camden County fitness center in contempt of court for violating the state’s COVID-19 restrictions over what businesses can operate.

The ruling, which was made by Judge Robert Lougy at a court hearing on Friday morning, allowed the state health department to place locks on the gym’s doors or implement another barrier in order for the facility to comply with its restrictions, according to the Cherry Hill Courier Post.

Atilis Gym also now faces fines for each day it remains in contempt of court and is required to cover the state’s legal costs, the judge ruled. The fitness center’s owners, Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti, are not allowed to stop any attempt to monitor the business or enforce the order.

The gym’s attorney told the Courier Post that they have requested a stay at a hearing on Monday, which would suspend the contempt of court finding.

The fitness center was charged with contempt of court by the state on Thursday after its owners allegedly denied health inspectors access to the property on Wednesday. 

The state reported a number of public health violations against the gym, including minimal wearing of face coverings by customers. The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office surveyed the property as well and found that the number of people entering the facility was far greater than what was permitted.

In response to the court order, Smith said that he and Trumbetti have removed the facility’s doors from its hinges and will not be leaving the gym. Smith also said that members are still welcome to come to the gym. 

No surprise, we lost. Frank and I will be held up inside the gym and WILL not be leaving. Any support is appreciated - inside, outside, or online. Please share, tag, and repost. It’s fucking showtime.

Posted by Atilis Gym, Bellmawr, NJ on Friday, July 24, 2020

Friday’s court decision was the latest turn in the ongoing legal battle between the state and the gym during the pandemic.

Earlier this week, Lougy ruled that Atilis Gym could remain open if it followed New Jersey’s COVID-19 guidelines after being charged with contempt of court by the state last week. The decision was Atilis Gym's first court victory – albeit limited in scope – in its ongoing legal battle with the state.

The decision, however, "expressly invited" Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli to file another contempt of court motion if the gym violated New Jersey's COVID-19 guidelines.

Despite not initially finding the gym in contempt of court, Lougy said the facility would be shut down if it didn’t follow the state’s restrictions for health clubs and gyms to reopen.

Those restrictions limit the indoor use of fitness centers to individual training sessions held in separate rooms. Unrestricted public use of gyms indoors remains banned across the state. Outdoor spaces can reopen with social distancing measures in place. 

However, Smith and Trumbetti said that they had no intention of following the rules outlined by the state.

During an inspection last week by the Camden County health department, officials found that the gym failed to provide staff with gloves and masks, exceeded capacity limits, and did not implement social distancing. Atilis Gym also had covered its windows, blocking anyone from seeing into the building from the outside.

The New Jersey health department responded by filing a motion alleging the gym was in contempt of court. Trumbetti and Smith received the lawsuit from the state last Friday evening, which sought to shut down the gym and change its locks.

Expecting the court to rule in favor of the state, Smith and Trumbetti threatened to remove the doors to stop the state from changing the locks. They also pledged to open the facility 24/7 until they were arrested or the state backed down. 

Atilis Gym first reopened on May 18, defying the state's shutdown orders and prompting national media attention. It remained open for three days before it was shut down by state health officials.

Smith and Trumbetti tried to sue the state in federal court, but a judge dismissed the case last month, saying he would not interfere with New Jersey enforcing its COVID-19 restrictions. The facility then filed an appeal in state court, but Smith said that they were not granted an injunction.

A revised court order allowed a portion of the gym to reopen on June 15, so two retail outlets that share its space in the Bellmawr shopping center – an apparel shop and a nutritional supplements store – could resume operations. The revised order was issued on the same day that New Jersey allowed in-person retail shopping to resume. 

Atilis Gym began holding workouts outdoors in June, but it reopened the indoor portion of the gym on July 4 before the state allowed it.

The gym’s owners said that it was operating at 25% capacity, but it would not require members to wear face masks. The gym had also "loosened" social distancing requirements, but was mandating members to have their temperatures checked, use hand sanitizer, and sign waivers before working out.

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