Gym owner suing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam over closure of nonessential businesses

Two Republican state senators are representing a gym owner who is suing Virginia’s governor over his executive order that closed down nonessential businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

State Sen. Bill Stanley and Ryan McDougle filed the lawsuit in Culpeper County Tuesday on behalf Merrill C. “Sandy” Hall, who owns several Gold’s Gym franchises. The lawsuit argues Gov. Ralph Northam exceeded his authority when ordering the closure of nonessential businesses, including fitness centers, on March 23.

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It also seeks relief from the executive order so Hall can open up his businesses. While announcing the lawsuit, Stanley said the doors of the gyms should “no longer be shuttered” and “need to be reopened,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

McDougle, who chairs the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, accused Northam of failing to isolate people infected with the virus so that Virginians could be protected “against government overreach.”

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Alena Yarmosky, the governor’s spokeswoman, declined to comment on the specific lawsuit but said the governor “will continue to base his decisions in science, public health, and the safety of all Virginians.”

Nonessential businesses are slated to be closed in Virginia until early May. The state stay-at-home order, signed on March 30, extends until June 10.

The lawsuit points to a court decision in 2016 that voided an executive order by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe restoring voting rights for felons. Then, too, Republicans had argued that the governor overstepped his authority.