Gyms Say They May Close Permanently Following Appeals Court Decision

Jun 25, 2020

An appeals court decision keeping gyms from opening could put some facilities out of business entirely.

That’s according to an attorney representing gym owners in their lawsuit against the state. 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late Wednesday that gyms will remain closed pending a court ruling on a lawsuit between the fitness facilities and the state. 

Last week, a federal court ruled in favor of gyms, saying that the state failed to provide a rational basis for keeping them closed. In his decision last Friday, Judge Paul Maloney wrote that when gyms asked in court why they must remain closed the state could only answer “trust us.”

“The Court fully recognizes that the bar is extremely low,” Judge Maloney wrote. “But it is not that low.”

That decision granted a preliminary injunction that would have allowed gyms to open across the state on Thursday. 

In its order reversing Judge Maloney’s decision, the appeals court wrote that the low bar of a “rational basis” for the order had been passed: “Even if imperfect, the Governor’s Order passes muster.”

That didn’t stop the court from noting that Judge Maloney had “understandably expressed frustration” at the Governor’s justifications for her order. 

Scott Erskine is an attorney representing the League of Independent Fitness Facilities and Trainers. He said the Court of Appeals’ decision is a disappointment and could force some gyms out of business. 

“The only solace that my clients can really take from the court of appeals decision is the recognition that my clients are suffering and may be forced to pay the ultimate business price by losing their businesses if this continues.”

Erskine noted that the state in early filings seemed to imply that keeping gyms closed would cause no damage to their business. He said the appeals court decision acknowledged the damage closure is likely to have on gyms. 

In its decision, the appeals court wrote: “We deeply sympathize with the business owners and patrons affected by the Governor’s Order. Crises like Covid-19 can call for quick, decisive measures to save lives. Yet those measures can have extreme costs - costs that are not borne evenly. The decision to impose those costs rests with the political branches of government, in this case, Governor Whitmer.”

Ultimately, Erskine said, the acknowledgment is still cold comfort to many gym owners.

“Many of them aren’t going to make it through this pandemic. They are all trying to figure out if there is anything else they can do, with no end in sight, to even have a business when this is over.”

Erskine said gyms are reviewing their options on how to proceed. 

Fitness facilities in the Upper and Northern Lower peninsula opened earlier this month based on the state’s regional reopening plan. 

In a written statement, Governor Whitmer said states need broad powers in order to quell the pandemic and she will “continue to take the actions necessary to save lives.”