Movie theaters sue New Jersey for right to reopen

AMC movie theater in Clifton, N.J.

Movie chains are suing to be included in New Jersey's reopening plans. An empty parking lot is seen at an AMC movie theater in Clifton, N.J, on April 5. (Ted Shaffrey/AP)

Cinema chains, including AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas, have filed suit against New Jersey’s governor for refusing to allow them to reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In the lawsuit led by the National Association of Theatre Owners of New Jersey, naming Gov. Philip Murphy and New Jersey’s health commissioner, Judith Persichilli, the plaintiffs argue that because churches and retailers have been allowed to open in the state, the movie theaters should be permitted to reopen as well.

In the suit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, the cinema chains acknowledge the danger posed by COVID-19.

“Plaintiffs support fair and reasonable actions by the government to address that risk. However, the government-mandated total closure of movie theatres is neither fair nor reasonable, and is instead a violation of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, Equal Protection of the laws, Due Process under the law, and is a Taking of property without just compensation,” the lawsuit says.

They say Murphy and Persichilli have made “unconstitutional and unlawful distinctions in allowing certain places of public assembly to reopen, while requiring movie theatres to remain closed.”

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop New Jersey from enforcing orders that prevent movie houses from opening “simultaneously” with other, comparable venues.

Murphy unveiled a phased reopening of the state in May.

Bow Tie Cinemas, BJK Entertainment, and Community Theaters are also plaintiffs in the suit.

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