Many industries have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and movie theaters are definitely one of the businesses most affected. Theaters closed early on due to the nature of having so many people in a smaller space, and they have yet to open across the country due to spikes in COVID-19 cases. Now AMC, Regal, and Cinemark are taking New Jersey to court in a quest to reopen, claiming constitutional injury and saying that New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy can't continue to keep them closed, especially if churches have been allowed to reopen, which they have in New Jersey as part of its Stage 2 reopening plan. The complaint is being led by the National Association of Theatre Owners of New Jersey, and you can read their complaint below (via THR).
"By this Complaint, Plaintiffs challenge Defendants’ unconstitutional and unlawful distinctions in allowing certain places of public assembly to reopen, while requiring movie theatres to remain closed," the complaint reads. "COVID-19 represents a serious public health risk, and Plaintiffs support fair and reasonable actions by the government to address that risk. However, the government-mandated total closure of movie theatres is neither fair nor reasonable, and is instead a violation of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, Equal Protection of the laws, Due Process under the law, and is a Taking of property without just compensation."
First Amendment attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine are handling the case, and it takes issue with the fact that churches have been allowed to reopen as part of Stage 2 but theaters haven't, as they aren't allowed to reopen until Stage 3, though no date has been given for Stage 3 to begin.
"Defendants have a legal obligation to promulgate orders that treat like entities in a like manner, and not to create arbitrary or irrational distinctions, particularly where First Amendment rights are at stake," the complaint reads. " Although Defendants have issued orders allowing other public assemblies such as religious services and ceremonies to open, they have withheld approval for movie theatres, which are similarly situated, if not less of a risk, from a public health perspective. Representatives of Plaintiffs met with representatives of Defendants, and the representatives of Plaintiffs shared detailed safety protocols that would be implemented for the reopening of movie theatres in the State that Plaintiffs are ready, willing, and able to implement."
We'll have to wait and see how this turns out, but if it's successful, you can probably bet New Jersey won't be the only state to face similar lawsuits.