Gym lawsuit against governor dismissed

By The Star Staff

Superior Court Judge Alfonso Martínez Piovanetti on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of gym owners and operators challenging the constitutionality of an executive order issued by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, for the total closure of certain businesses and private entities, including gyms, starting July 17.

The gym owners, united under Gyms United for Puerto Rico, had argued in a lawsuit filed in July that Executive Order 2020-54 intervenes in and undermines contractual obligations between them and their clients and violates their and their clients’ right to freedom of assembly. They had also argued that their industry, which provides $70 million to the economy, is not contributing to the hike in COVID-19 cases.

The Superior Court disagreed.

“Although we can understand the discomfort caused by the decree for the temporary closure of gyms (among other commercial establishments), the Court cannot ignore that the contested government measure is rationally related to the magnitude and severity of the present pandemic, as well as the exponential growth of infections as of mid-June 2020,” the judge said.

As articulated in the executive order, “the public health system in Puerto Rico still does not have at its disposal effective treatments or a vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19.”

“Therefore, the objectives of mitigating this disease, reducing contagion, and safeguarding the operation of the Puerto Rico health system constitute the legitimate interest articulated by the State that justifies, as a precautionary measure, the temporary closure of the plaintiffs’ and intervenors’ businesses at this particular historical juncture,” the judge said. “Therefore, we reiterate that in the face of such circumstances and considerations of public interest -- a fundamental criterion in considering an extraordinary appeal of this nature -- the remedy requested by the plaintiff and the intervening party must be denied. …”

The plaintiffs had argued that the governor’s determination deprives the owners and operators of the gyms from making use of their property and their livelihood, which has represented a loss of thousands of dollars and exposes them to the cancellation of contracts between them and their partners.

They said the new guideline was issued just days after gym owners had made large investments in their gyms to comply with the health measures imposed by a previous executive order that allowed them to open just a month before the beginning of the third phase of economic reopening, and that the new restriction had no scientific justification nor was it based on cases of infection originating in gyms.

The commonwealth “could have used less drastic measures that did not damage the exercise of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, as it did with churches, restaurants, bars and gas stations,” they argued.

The executive order violated the right to freedom and enjoyment of property, due process of law and protection against the impairment of contractual obligations, as they derive from the Bill of Rights of the Puerto Rico Constitution, the gym owners said.

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