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May 28, 2020

Defiant Camden County gym owners take reopening fight to federal court

N.J. officials violated their constitutional rights, lawsuit claims

Courts Lawsuits
Atilis Gym lawsuit Google/Street View

The owners of Atilis Gym have filed a lawsuit against New Jersey, claiming Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order to close non-essential businesses violates their constitutional right.

The owners of Atilis Gym are challenging the New Jersey's authority to keep their business closed during the coronavirus pandemic. This time, they're doing it in federal court. 

Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti filed a lawsuit claiming their constitutional rights were violated by Gov. Phil Murphy, who has forced all businesses deemed non-essential to close indefinitely. 

Earlier this month, they repeatedly defied Murphy's executive order until the Bellmawr, Camden County gym was shut down by a state health officials. Their lawsuit also named Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and other New Jersey officials as defendants.

Murphy's order allows a variety of businesses, including liquor stores and big box stores like Target and Home Depot, to remain open as essential businesses. 

The lawsuit alleges Murphy made these distinctions arbitrarily and claims the gym followed safety protocols that were "sufficiently similar" to those enacted at businesses permitted to stay open.

The gym's capacity was restricted to 20% in order to meet social distancing guidelines and biometric thermal thermometers were installed to measure the temperatures of anyone entering the facility, the suit claims. It also says gym members were required to wear masks and fill out health questionnaires. 

“There has never been any health inspection of the gym, no analysis of the health status of gyms as essential and no analysis of plaintiff’s health-related protocols to see if they meet the same health standards as allowed for essential businesses," the lawsuit says. 

The lawsuit also claims the "business might never financially recover" from the closure and "may end up entirely out of business." 

The gym gained national attention after Smith announced the owners' intentions to defy Murphy on the Fox News show "Tucker Carlson Tonight." The facility reopened the next day to a large crowd of supporters. Smith and Trumbetti were charged with making a public nuisance.

GoFundMe campaign was started to cover the legal fees of the owners and the gym members who were arrested for using the facility. As of Thursday, it had raised over $83,000 from more than 2,100 donors. 

Health officials ordered the gym to close last week after it opened three days in a row, violating Murphy's executive order. The health department claimed that "the community presence of the virus is still too great to allow for relaxation of the current mitigation measures that are in place and necessary to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that commonly occurs in such congregate indoor settings." 

Though Murphy has begun relaxing some coronavirus-related restrictions, he has said that reopening indoor facilities remains too risky. He reiterated that solving the public health crisis takes priority over fixing its economic toll.

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