New Jersey Judge Says Movie Theater Chains Can’t Immediately Reopen

AMC, Regal and Cinemark had sued the state, citing a violation of free speech

Last Updated: July 14, 2020 @ 4:11 PM

A New Jersey federal judge has denied a request from the major movie theater chains for a temporary restraining order against the state that would have allowed theaters to immediately reopen their doors.

The motion is a setback after companies like AMC, Regal and Cinemark and led by NATO jointly filed suit last week against New Jersey arguing that the state is violating the chains’ first amendment rights and taking property without just compensation.

Judge Brian R. Martinotti also set a hearing that’s expected for August 4 in which the theater chains’ request for an injunction will be litigated.

The lawsuit accused New Jersey of an “unconstitutional” practice by requiring movie theaters to remain closed due to the coronavirus while other indoor businesses, including and venues, including churches, museums, aquariums, libraries and public and private social clubs have been able to reopen beginning at the end of June through an executive order. The lawsuit named both governor Philip Murphy and the acting commissioner of health Judith Persichilli as defendants.

Martinotti wrote in his order that the plaintiffs failed to satisfy the “stringent standards for granting this extraordinary relief,” saying they had “ample opportunities” to file a request for a temporary restraining order between the governor’s initial executive order and their lawsuit.

“It is noteworthy that, as Plaintiffs file this application, states that initially ordered the re-opening of indoor movie theaters have once again ordered their closure in response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers,” the judge added.

Movie theaters have been closed since mid-March as a result of the coronavirus, and the chains argued in the lawsuit that though they’ve presented protocols for reopening and have shown a willingness to implement them, the defendants “Have provided no explanation for their disparate treatment of entities with similar risk levels regarding COVID-19, and none exists.”

The judge also directed the state to respond to the plaintiffs request for an injunction by July 24.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.

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