Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against City Over Covid Regulations

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a civil lawsuit a fitness gym filed against a Mississippi city claiming the city violated business owners’ rights when it forced non-essential businesses to close to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves issued executive orders in April 2020 that temporarily shut down non-essential businesses, including fitness gyms, spas, salons and barbershops. Aldermen in Starkville approved local ordinances mirroring the state order, The Dispatch reports.

In their suit, Starkville Athletic Club managers John and Joe Underwood said the ordinance violated the state and U.S. constitution. They said forcing businesses to close is equivalent to taking their property for public purposes without just compensation.

They also claimed the city’s ban on fitness gyms is “arbitrary” because Starkville Police Department continued to leave a gym open for its officers during the time private gyms were ordered to be closed.

But Senior U.S. District Judge for North Mississippi Glen H. Davidson said the city has the right to enact such policies during a public health crisis. He said the city did not damage or take any of their real property and that lost potential profits from the city not allowing them to pursue their business interest did not constitute “taking.”

Attorney Jim Waide of Tupelo, who is representing the Underwoods, told The Dispatch Wednesday he hasn’t decided whether to advise his clients to appeal. He said cases involving non-essential businesses are filing against government entities for lost profits during the pandemic are “by and large being dismissed.”

“I would never have agreed to file it if I didn’t think it would succeed or that we were right,” Waide told the newspaper. “I still think we were right.”

After ordering them to close in April, Reeves later filed another order in May 2020 allowing businesses like gyms to reopen.