Lake County Court of Common Pleas Judge Eugene Lucci has ruled against Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton and the state health department in a lawsuit filed by 35 gyms that were forced to close under Ohio’s stay-at-home order. According to court records, Judge Lucci granted a preliminary injunction that says Dr. Acton and the Ohio Department of Health violated Ohioans’ constitutional rights by ordering gyms to stay closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and blocks state and county officials from taking action against fitness centers that reopen.
The lawsuit, filed by 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on behalf of the gyms, sought a judgment to reopen immediately, with added safety measures in place, and asked for compensation due to financial losses resulting from the shutdown. The state ordered gyms closed March 15, 2020.
Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine announced as part of the state’s Responsible RestartOhio strategy that gyms and fitness centers would be allowed to reopen on May 26. See below for statements from 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and Gov. DeWine’s spokesman, Dan Tierney.
1851 Center for Constitutional Law statement:
An Ohio Court of Common Pleas Wednesday morning enjoined the Ohio Governor and director of the Department of Health from “imposing or enforcing penalties solely for non-compliance with the director’s order” against gymnasiums, health clubs, fitness centers, gyms, and workout facilities.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law’s victory against defendant Amy Acton comes on behalf of 35 independent gyms across the state, who moved to enjoin the Ohio Department of Health from continuing to enforce its criminalization of even safe gym operations, as implemented through the director’s various orders since March.
The ruling by Judge Eugene Lucci of the Lake County Court of Common Pleas explains 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.”
The ruling further excoriates the department of health’s insistence that “one unelected individual could exercise such unfettered power to force everyone to obey impermissibly vague rules without any legislative guidance.”
“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 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “We remain available to serve those who are caught in the State’s tangled web of unlawful orders.”
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office statement:
“The ruling affirms that facilities must follow Ohio Department of Health safety protocols to keep patrons and all Ohioans safe and healthy. These facilities were due to open Tuesday anyways. However, our office disagrees with the ruling’s analysis of law.”