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Judge rejects gym owner’s petition to reopen facilities, case being appealed

CULPEPER, Va. – A Virginia judge has rejected a petition from a gym owner who sought to reopen his facilities despite an executive order requiring the closure of fitness centers and other nonessential businesses.

The judge’s ruling may not be final as the case is now being appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

At a hearing conducted by telephone Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Claude Worrell said Virginia law gives the governor broad authority to issue executive orders during a public health emergency.

Merrill Hall, who owns a chain of Gold's Gym franchises and other gyms, sued the governor in Culpeper County Circuit Court. He said the governor exceeded his authority and that the closures have him on the brink of financial ruin.

Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens argued that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s orders are reasonable considering the public health threat, and that more than 40 other states have acted similarly with regard to fitness centers.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring released this statement after the ruling:

“I’m really glad we were able to again successfully defend Governor Northam’s Executive Orders. Social distancing continues to be the most important thing we can do to keep our communities safe, keep Virginians healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19. While I understand there are many hardships that come with these critical safety measures, we must remember that we are all working together to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe and healthy.”

“My team and I are working every single day to help Virginians get through this crisis because we all have to be part of the fight against this pandemic. We’re defending the Governor’s targeted, effective measures to slow the spread of the virus. We’re cracking down on price gouging, helping Virginians access healthcare, and ensuring utilities stay connected during this crisis. We all have a roll to play in this and my team and I will continue to fight for Virginians.”