TOMS RIVER, NJ – Movie theaters throughout the Jersey Shore remain closed and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Several movie theater chains have already declared bankruptcy and several others have signaled they may file soon, including AMC, Regal Theaters and CMX Theaters. On July 7th, AMC, Cinemark and Regal Theaters, together with the National Association of Theatre Owners of New Jersey filed a joint lawsuit against the State of New Jersey and Governor Phil Murphy.
The lawsuit claims Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, who needs no introduction created unconstitutional and unlawful distinctions in allowing certain places of public assembly to reopen, while requiring movie theatres to remain closed. COVID-19 represents a serious public health risk, and Plaintiffs support fair and reasonable actions by the government to address that risk. However, the government-mandated total closure of movie theatres is neither fair nor reasonable, and is instead a violation of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, Equal Protection of the laws, Due Process under the law, and is a taking of property without just compensation.
The plaintiffs also charge unfair tactics by Murphy by not declaring or announcing a timeline for when movie theaters may open.
“Among the businesses allowed to reopen by this order are a number of public assembly establishments such as libraries, museums, aquariums, and public and private social clubs. The order uses the rubric “recreational and entertainment businesses,” the suit charges. “Yet specifically requires movie theatres, performing arts centers, gyms and fitness centers, and
indoor amusement and water parks to keep their indoor spaces closed.”
On Friday, Murphy’s administration defended their right to keep movie theaters in the state closed indefinitely.
“Indeed, movie theaters require customers to be seated in a confined indoor room for an extended period of time, risking COVID-19 spread from those prolonged interactions,” said Assistant Attorney General Daniel Vanella. “And those risks are magnified whenever patrons remove their mask, which they do to consume the concessions Plaintiffs wish to sell, and which would also be hard to observe and to prevent in a dark theater.”
Vanella stated movie theaters posed an especially unnecessary risk and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit against the state by the movie theater industry.
New Jersey District Court Judge Brian R. Martinotti has for now sided with the Murphy administration citing the increase in COVID-19 infections nationwide and the fact that other states are scaling back their movie theater reopenings because of the spread of the virus.