Movie Theaters Sue New Jersey Over Continued Closure

( Some of the largest movie theater companies in the country are suing New Jersey over what they say are its “unconstitutional” closure of their business.

Cinemark, Regal and AMC have filed a lawsuit against the state, saying Governor Phil Murphy doesn’t have the right to keep movie theaters closed while allowing other indoor facilities to open, albeit with restrictions.

The complaint, which is being headed up by the National Association of Theatre Owners of New Jersey, states:

“By this Complaint, Plaintiffs challenge Defendants’ 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 Plaintiff’s 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.”

Attorneys who specialize in First Amendment rights at the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, which represents a lot of media companies, are handling the case.

The lawsuit points to how New Jersey has entered Stage 2 of their re-opening plan, which has allowed indoor retails stores as well as indoor shopping malls to open their doors again. There are restrictions on how those businesses operate, of course, but they are at least allowed to operate.

The complaint also states religious houses have been able to open under Stage 2. The governor, however, hasn’t put a timeline on when the state will progress to Stage 3, or when movie theaters will be allowed to re-open.

While New Jersey’s coronavirus numbers have been trending downward overall, the state is taking a very cautious approach to re-opening, as it fears another outbreak. The same path is being taken by other states in the Northeast that were hard hit from the get-go of the pandemic.

But as the complaint states:

“Defendants have a legal obligation to promulgate orders that treat like entities in a like manner, and not to create arbitrary or irrational distinctions, particularly where First Amendment rights are at stake. Although Defendants have issued orders allowing other public assemblies such as religious services and ceremonies to open, they have withheld approval for movie theatres, which are similarly situated, if not less of a risk, from a health perspective.

“Representatives of Plaintiffs met with representatives of Defendants, and the representatives of Plaintiffs shared detailed safety protocols that would be implemented for the reopening of movie theatres in the State that Plaintiffs are ready, willing and able to implement.”

In the end, the complaint asks that New Jersey be ordered to treat movie theaters in the exact same fashion that other similar businesses and indoor facilities are being treated. The movie theater companies are also seeking a declaration that Murphy’s decision has constituted a “deprivation of just compensation.”