Two Republican state senators are representing the owner of Gold’s Gym facilities in Virginia, including two in the Richmond area, in a lawsuit that challenges Gov. Ralph Northam’s authority to close private fitness centers as nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, and Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, filed a lawsuit in Culpeper County on Tuesday on behalf of Merrill C. “Sandy” Hall, the owner of Gold’s Gym facilities in Virginia, including centers in Chesterfield and Henrico counties. The suit seeks temporary and permanent injunctions to prevent enforcement of the executive order.
“The doors of these health clubs should no longer be shuttered,” Stanley said in a news release announcing the suit. “They need to be reopened.”
The lawsuit cites a Virginia Supreme Court decision in 2016 that struck down an executive order by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, to restore voting rights to felons. Then-House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, and other Republican leaders in the General Assembly brought the suit. They successfully argued that McAuliffe had overreached his constitutional authority with his blanket restoration of voting and other civil rights to felons who had served the terms of their convictions.
The Gold’s Gym lawsuit asserts that Northam exceeded his constitutional authority by issuing Executive Order 53 on March 23 to close public access to recreational and entertainment businesses, as well as restrict restaurant operations and other non-essential businesses. The order specified fitness centers, salons and barbershops, bowling alleys and theaters, among others.
The order also closed public and private schools through the end of the school year and prohibited public gatherings of 10 or more people.
The governor’s stay at home order is in effect until June 10. He has extended business closures to May 8.
“We do not comment on ongoing litigation” said Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky. “The governor will continue to base his decisions in science, public health, and the safety of all Virginians.”
McDougle, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said Northam had failed to follow state law for the quarantine and isolation of people believed to be carrying a “communicable disease of public health threat.”
“The executive order failed to adhere to the Constitution and failed to follow the Code,” McDougle said in the news release that his and Stanley’s law offices issued Tuesday.
“When those procedures are authorized by the State Health Commissioner, they protect us from those infected by or exposed to the disease, while guaranteeing due process and court review to protect against government overreach,” he said.