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Judge Tosses Gym Owner's Lawsuit Over COVID Closure

Jason Scott

A civil court judge dismissed a gym owner’s lawsuit against the state of Vermont seeking damages over Gov. Phil Scott’s order that his business be closed as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Rutland Herald, Sean Manovill, owner of Club Fitness, sued the state, the governor and attorney general T.J. Donovan, arguing that they should pay for damages his business incurred when he was forced to close from March through June. The suit argued that the closure was “unconstitutional” and represented “unlawful taking.” 

Judge Robert Mello upheld the state’s action in a Sept. 24 ruling, writing “COVID-19 swept the country in a short period of time, forcing governors and health officials to act quickly and diligently to protect the population. In (a Tennessee case,) the court determined that the COVID-19 closure ‘was not for a public use but was instead a valid exercise of the broad police powers bestowed upon state and local officials to prevent detrimental public harms by restricting plaintiffs’ use of their property. It is unlikely such action would require compensation under the ‘Takings Clause.’ ”

Scott ordered that certain businesses be closed amid the pandemic in order to slow the spread of the virus. Manovill opened his gym in defiance of the governor’s order in May, and was subsequently sued by Donovan’s office and the subject of a preliminary injunction. Ella Spotswood of the Civil Division within the attorney general’s office pursued action that would both close the gym and seek penalties for its defiance of the governor’s order.

Manovill said at the time that he was seeking to reopen for the sake of health and wellness. 

On Wednesday, Manovill said he planned to meet with his lawyer to discuss his options. 

“This is just the beginning,” Manovill told the Rutland Herald.

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