WABASHA, Minn. — A Wabasha County District Court judge ruled Wednesday, Dec. 3, that a Plainview fitness center must close its doors and comply with a recent executive order.
Judge Christopher Neisen ordered that Plainview Fitness Center and its owner, Brandon Reiter, are "prevented, restrained, and enjoined from taking any action violating Executive Order 20-99, including but not limited to opening to the public or any of its members, for any type of use."
The executive order is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 18. If the order is not extended, Reiter would be allowed to reopen at that time.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against the fitness center and Reiter on Nov. 24, on allegations that he was violating Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-99 — which ordered that fitness centers and other places of entertainment close, and that bars and restaurants suspend indoor service for four weeks — by remaining open past when the order went into effect.
The AG's Office asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order, which would force Reiter to close the gym's doors in compliance with the executive order.
Reiter, through his attorney, Vincent J. Fahnlander, argued against the temporary restraining order, citing a number of reasons, including that there were less-restrictive alternatives to protect public health and that by forcing the gym to close it would likely mean "irreparable injury to and perhaps even the death" to Reiter's business.
Neisen’s order also states that Reiter and his fitness center “shall fully comply with Executive Order 20-99 and any future Executive Orders by the Governor approved by the Executive Council, and filed in the Office of the Secretary of State in accordance with Minnesota Statutes Chapter 12 that apply to gyms and/or fitness centers.”
In response to the judge's ruling, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement he was glad the court recognized the seriousness of the pandemic and the firm legal foundation of the state’s efforts to halt its spread.
“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility. I thank the vast majority of Minnesota businesses that have complied with executive orders and done their part to stop it, and it’s my hope that all businesses will understand their responsibility to comply. I recognize the sacrifice that most businesses have made: they deserve assistance, not unfair competition,” Ellison said.
Fahnlander, Reiter's attorney, said Reiter was disappointed with the result.
"Brandon operates a very clean, sanitary and safe gym, and he simply wants to keep open — keep doing what he does," Fahnlander said. "Brandon’s members at his gym are his friends, his neighbors, and he simply wants to provide a safe place where they can work out and maintain their good health. We believe he should be able to do that, yet we understand the court’s ruling."
Fahnlander said Reiter will comply with the judge's ruling.
"He closed down as soon as he found out the results of the court’s decision," Fahnlander said. "I saw the ruling come in, and I immediately forwarded it to him, and I believe he immediately posted on his door that he was closed."
Fahnlander said they are analyzing their options going forward with the case.
'It is plainly against public policy'
In the 10-page memorandum supporting the order, Neisen notes that Reiter and his business will be harmed financially if the temporary injunction is issued, but that Minnesotans will be threatened with real, substantial and irreparable harm if the injunction were not granted.
“If Courts across Minnesota were to unravel the Executive Order by giving it no legal effect, it may lead to further COVID-19 outbreaks,” Neisen wrote. “Death and infection rates will continue to climb and medical facilities may be overwhelmed.”
Neisen also ruled that the governor acted within his constitutional authority and that Reiter’s constitutional rights have not been violated. Reiter had argued that the executive order violated his constitutional rights, as some activity is allowed, while other activity of “equal or more danger” was barred.
Both the AG’s Office and Reiter presented research to the courts to support their arguments. In his ruling, Neisen wrote that it was not the role of the court to compare studies and exercise its own independent judgment, and that deference should be given to the governor.
“While Defendant may dispute the Governor’s findings that gyms pose a threat of community transmission of COVID-19, the Court must defer to the legislative branch, which has in-turn deferred to the executive branch by statute, in imposing proper business regulations during a peacetime emergency,” Neisen wrote. “The measures taken by Defendant in the operation of its gym might perhaps result in less spread of the COVID-19 as compared to retail stores, for example, that are allowed to remain open with certain restrictions. It is not the role of this Court to become involved with such a determination.”
Considering public policy, Neisen wrote that three major concerns favor the state.
“First, as mentioned throughout, the purpose of the Executive Order is to stop spread of COVID-19 amid a spike in cases, and thereby protect the health of Minnesotans. Second, in the absence of an injunction, Defendant would be given an unfair business advantage over other gyms that are following the Executive Order,” Neisen wrote. “Third, it is plainly against public policy to allow a person or entity to disregard an Order that has the effect of law, simply because they disagree with it or have data that they believe support their position.”