‘Broke’ Gym Owners Sue Murphy: ‘Gov’t Has to Trust Citizens at Some Point’
BELLMAWR — A federal complaint has been filed by Atilis Gym against Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration for what the business calls unconstitutional restrictions during the pandemic.
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan and state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli are also named as defendants in the complaint, which says executive orders were "hastily instituted" in the wake of the health crisis.
The complaint said locks on the gym doors were changed in a “physical invasion taking" on Saturday, May 23. An attorney for the gym said the locks were changed by the Camden County Sheriff's Office.
The state Office of Attorney General submitted a request for temporary restraints a day earlier, which was granted by Superior Court Judge Roberty Lougy, to order the gym closed at least until a June 8 hearing on the Health Department's lawsuit.
Atilis Gym, which is owned by Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti, is being represented by the Mermigis Law Firm, based in Long Island. The firm also represents an Upper Hudson Valley gym in a similar lawsuit against New York state for its emergency directives.
According to the federal complaint, Murphy's executive order "bestows unbridled authority" to Callahan for enforcing emergency restrictions. It also said of the essential businesses allowed to remain open that "the classification was not reasonable or rational and was arbitrary and random without any data, and therefore a denial of due process."
Attorney James Mermigis said his clients "are broke," after maxing out their credit cards installing a biometric thermoscanner and other equipment like an inside air filter system to keep their gym clients safe from COVID-19 and the spread of the virus.
Mermigis said they are not challenging this two weeks after the arrival of the pandemic but after three months since restrictions were implemented with no state plan for reopening.
"The government has to trust its citizens at some point, and say — you know what, everybody needs to be responsible," Mermigis said.
"We all know how contagious and horrible this disease can be, I'm not disputing that at all, but there needs to be a balance," Mermigis said, adding people need to earn a living.
He said Smith and Trumbetti bought the gym less than a year ago and were gaining momentum when the pandemic hit. He said they are now hoping not to lose their business.
Mermigis said the gym's landlord "has not given any relief whatsoever," so full rent has been due every month, and that the "PPP loan," or the Paycheck Protection Program offered by the Small Business Administration, has a restriction of about 25% that can be utilized for rent payments. So he said, Smith and Trumbetti had no choice but to take things "into their own hands."
A GoFundMe account setup to help pay for the legal fees of the gym owners had raised more than $81,000 as of Thursday evening.
Mermigis said he thinks Murphy is well intentioned with his executive orders but the attorney believes the former Goldman Sachs executive is "very out of touch with what small business owners are going through" during the pandemic.
Mermigis noted the governor this week gave the OK for professional sports teams that practice in New Jersey to let athletes resume training.
"What is the difference between that and people working out in a gym?" Mermigis said.
The state's lawsuit against the gym came after three days in a row of Smith and Trumbetti opening their gym in violation of the executive orders on non-essential businesses and limits on indoor gatherings of more than 10 people.