New Jersey Judge Denies Movie Theaters’ Move to Reopen

Six theater chains including AMC, Regal and Cinemark had sued the state, citing a violation of free speech

A New Jersey judge has denied a request from six of the major movie theater chains including AMC, Regal and Cinemark and led by NATO to reopen their doors, saying that the state’s move was a reasonable response to the COVID-19 pandemic and that it was not in violation of the theaters’ First Amendment rights.

The theaters back in July sued the state for a violation of free speech and taking property without just compensation, arguing that it was unfair that churches were allowed to reopen while movie theaters needed to remain closed.

Judge Brian Martinotti ruled that the theater chains’ request for an injunction was denied after hearing oral arguments on August 5. He wrote that movie theaters pose a specific risk with a difficulty of enforcing a mask policy inside a dark, enclosed area and said that by only closing indoor movie theaters, there remain other options to the public for safe viewing.

“By closing only indoor movie theaters, Defendants are leaving open ‘ample alternative methods of communication’ in the form of outdoor movie theaters and at-home streaming options,” Martinetti said in the 33-page ruling.

The ruling also includes the many protocols laid out by the theaters in order to attempt to provide a safe environment should they be allowed to reopen their doors, including new employee safety protocols, cleaning procedures, requirements to wear masks in the theater and socially distant ticketing.

The theaters had argued that the New Jersey government, which named both governor Philip Murphy and the acting commissioner of health Judith Persichilli as defendants, did not acknowledge the theaters’ new safety protocols and “have provided no explanation for their disparate treatment of entities with similar risk levels regarding COVID-19, and none exists.”

Movie theater chains have been closed since mid-March, though some theaters are aiming to reopen in other states with new protocols in place. However, in major cities like New York and Los Angeles, it remains unclear when theaters will be allowed to reopen or how many major, Hollywood movies will be available to lure audiences back.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.