Local gym owners planning to stay open

The small business owners say if there is another state-mandated closure due to COVID-19, they will fight it in court.
Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 11:57 PM EST
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SYLVANIA, Ohio (WTVG) - During a statewide address last week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine stated if the current trend continues of cases of COVID-19 increasing, the state would be forced to close restaurants, bars, and fitness centers.

The Governor said this would be examined again on Thursday.

Since then, several local gym owners are saying they will stand in solidarity and remain open despite any new COVID-19 health orders from the state.

Among them, Marcus Zapata, the owner of Definition Fitness in Sylvania, says smaller locally-owned gyms like his are extra vigilant in following social distancing and sanitization guidelines.

“Speaking with attorneys and all the other gym owners we’ve all come to the consensus that another closure is not rooted in law and he has no authority to mandate a closure, so we don’t plan on closing," explains Zapata.

Zapata is not the only small business owner that took a financial hit during the first shutdown back in March.

Jennifer Rhoades co-owns Renegade Fitness along with her husband in Sylvania.

A distanced group fitness class in progress at the locally-owned facility in Sylvania.
A distanced group fitness class in progress at the locally-owned facility in Sylvania.(WTVG)

The group motivated fitness center offered online courses for members, but still lost more than 30% of their business last spring.

This time, while still providing markers on the floor for social distancing and individual bottles of sanitizer for members to clean equipment, Rhoades says they too will stay open despite state orders.

“We’re all operating legally," Rhoades said. "We’re following the protocols, we’re following the guidelines and we’re going to stand in solidarity and we’re going to fight with what’s ours that we’ve worked really hard to have and bring to the communities.”

Both gym owners are resting their confidence in a judge’s ruling from a Lake County Court of Common Pleas case from back in May of this year. The judge ruled in favor of another local gym owner in a suit against former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton.

Zapata says his attorneys have advised that this case gives them the right to stay open.

“Right now the attorneys are saying to provide any task force or any authority with that case, which is again law, it is precedent, and until that law is overturned we’re going to stay open,” Zapata said.

We reached out to Rebecca Zietlow, a law professor at the University of Toledo about the case, who disagrees that ruling would hold enough weight.

“It is not binding in Lucas County. It might be persuasive to a judge, but it is not binding," says Zietlow.

Instead, Zietlow advises that local gyms would need to file a lawsuit in Lucas County first, where they could cite the Lake County case in their favor.

A ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court would then be needed for it to be binding upon the entire state.

Zietlow adds, “If they kept open and they were fined and then eventually they won the case maybe they could ask as one of the remedies to have their fines reimbursed.”

We also reached out to Maurice A. Thompson, the attorney working with Definition Fitness. Thompson is the Executive Director at the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Columbus, who sent us the following statement on the situation:

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