Va. Supreme Court denies appeal to review suit filed by gym owner against Northam’s executive order


Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam looks backward during a press conference in Richmond, Va. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Dean Hoffmeyer/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Supreme Court denied a petition Tuesday to review a lawsuit from a gym owner who sought an injunction to block Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order closing nonessential businesses in order to reopen his facilities before May 8.

Merrill C. “Sandy” Hall, the owner of several Gold’s Gym facilities in Virginia, filed a suit last month in Culpeper County Circuit Court challenging the governor’s authority to enforce Executive Order 53, which directed all nonessential businesses to close in response to the coronavirus.

“As presently applied and enforced, EO 53 has irreparably injured Petitioners’ [Hall] business, and is currently smothering their final breath,” the suit claimed. “Indeed, if these businesses cannot re-open before May 8, 2020, the executive order will force their permanent closure and eliminate the many jobs they sustain.”

On April 30, a Virginia judge denied Hall’s petition, saying that state law authorizes Northam to issue executive orders during a public health emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic. Hall was represented by two Republican lawmakers, Sen. William M. “Bill” Stanley (Franklin County) and Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (Hanover), who said they would take the case to the Virginia Supreme Court after the decision.

“Mr. Hall’s businesses and livelihood, and the health and well being of his members, are being negatively affected by the governor’s executive order, which imposes criminal penalties in defiance of the law,” Stanley said in a statement. “Appealing this decision is necessary and essential, not only to protect Mr. Hall’s rights, but the rights of all Virginians.”

The office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) defended the governor in the case. In a tweet following the court’s ruling Tuesday, Herring applauded his team for being “able to protect these reasonable, effective, and life-saving measures.”

In the face of economic distress brought on by the coronavirus, Gold’s Gym announced earlier this month that it has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company said the filing “is not associated with any of our locally-owned franchise gyms,” in a statement.

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