Judge Allows New Jersey to Keep Movie Theaters Closed for Now

AMC Theater New York March 17 2020

The movie theater industry has failed in an initial bid to force New Jersey to allow the reopening of movie theaters across the state. On Tuesday, after AMC, Cinemark, Regal and other exhibitors sued the state over an "unconstitutional" closures, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti denied the industry's request for a temporary restraining order.

The movie theaters say that if other places of public assembly can open — such as churches — so must movie houses. As a complaint states, "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 Plaintiffs’ 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."

The industry followed up a suit filed last week with a motion for an injunction. Court papers filed in the past 48 hours include details about how the industry believes that theaters can reopen safely. According to a plan presented to the governor's office, patrons would be required to wear masks; employees would have to wear protective gear and certify each shift they didn't have COVID-19 symptoms; employees would be monitored regularly; restrooms and food preparation areas would be continually sanitized; seating patters would be established to achieve social distancing; touchless purchasing technology would be adopted, and so forth.

But it's not enough for Martinotti, who points out that the movie theaters could have filed a legal action sooner.

The judge also takes notice of states like Texas and California backing off from their reopenings.

"It is noteworthy that, as Plaintiffs file this application, states that initially ordered the reopening of indoor movie theaters have once again ordered their closure in response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers," states a short order.

The judge has set up future proceedings in the case by also ordering New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy and Acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli to appear by Aug. 4 and explain why an injunction shouldn't issue.