Movie theater chains sue New Jersey governor over closures

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Several national movie theater chains have filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy over the Democrat’s decision to keep theaters closed as other public places are allowed to reopen while the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The suit filed Monday in federal court in Trenton alleges the failure to allow theaters to reopen while houses of worship and other public entities are allowed to constitutes a violation of the theaters’ rights to free speech, equal protection and due process.

Among those suing are AMC, Cinemark and Regal. They are seeking a restraining order to allow theaters to reopen. A spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners, also a plaintiff in the suit, said it is the first such court action brought as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Places of worship were allowed to resume indoor gatherings beginning last month, with restrictions on capacity and guidelines including the wearing of face coverings and maintaining social distancing.

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Other venues including libraries, museums, aquariums, and public and private social clubs were allowed to reopen this month, but movie theaters, performing arts centers, gyms and fitness centers and indoor amusement and water parks continued to be barred from opening their indoor spaces, according to the suit.

The theater groups claim they have presented detailed safety plans to the state specifying how they would ensure the safety of patrons and employees.

“Rather than address these comprehensive safety proposals in any meaningful way, Defendants have chosen to continue to discriminate against movie theatres and to continue to require the closure of indoor movie theatres,” the suit claims. “The ostensible reason offered by Defendants is that there are other and virtual ways to watch movies. Defendants have not applied this rationale to the other places of public assembly that Defendants have permitted to reopen.”

In an email Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Murphy said the governor’s office does not comment on pending litigation.