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Judge Denies Request To Reopen In Lawsuit Brought By 25 Gyms

The sign outside of the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse in downtown San Di...

Photo by Christopher Underwood

Above: The sign outside of the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse in downtown San Diego, August 23, 2018.

A federal judge Thursday denied a request from 25 San Diego County gyms and fitness centers who sued the state and county to resume indoor operations amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Like other, similar lawsuits challenging pandemic restrictions, the gyms argued in their suit that public health officials have arbitrarily considered some sectors essential, while "gyms and fitness centers, places where people go to maintain and improve their physical and mental health, have been deemed `non-essential,"' according to the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Bencivengo issued her ruling during a Thursday afternoon virtual court hearing, which stemmed from the suit filed late last year by the coalition of local gyms.

It was unclear whether the gyms would seek to appeal the ruling.

Charlotte Najar, representing the gyms, argued that the restrictions represented free speech violations and that conduct by gym-goers was similar to expressive conduct such as dancers at live entertainment establishments.

Najar said the gyms could reopen safely with COVID-19 protocols in place, such as limited capacity and mask mandates.

During Thursday afternoon's hearing, Bencivengo rejected the free speech argument and said the gyms had not shown that the balance of public interests favored the plaintiffs.

"California has a compelling interest in reducing the community spread of COVID-19," Bencivengo said.

Citing a separate ruling in a similar case by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Francisco, Bencivengo said, "challenging COVID-related restrictions, given the unique risks of gatherings and spreading COVID-19, the deaths and serious illnesses that result from COVID-19, and the overwhelming strain on the health system, the court finds that enjoining the state and county's restrictions on plaintiffs' gatherings and plaintiffs' businesses would not be in the public's interest."

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