New Jersey Movie Theaters Lawsuit

Last week, AMC Theatres, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas, along with the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), filed a lawsuit that claimed New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was infringing upon their First Amendment rights by forcing movie theaters to remain closed while churches, libraries and other venues were allowed to reopen. But a federal judge in New Jersey has denied their requests for a restraining order that would have allowed them to reopen.

Variety has the updates on movie theaters suing New Jersey in an attempt to reopen. The theater chains and NATO hoped to land a temporary restraining order that would allow New Jersey theaters to reopen immediately. With the former denied, they now have to wait for the state to respond to a request for an injunction to allow reopening. If that is denied, then Judge Brian R. Martinotti has scheduled litigation for the potential injunction to take place on or before August 4. That means there’s still a chance that New Jersey movie theaters could be allowed to reopen in the near future.

The original lawsuit laid out why movie theaters were trying to force New Jersey to let them reopen:

“Plaintiffs bring this action to ensure that movie theatre are treated equally with other similarly situated places of public assembly, and in order to exercise their First Amendment rights to exhibit films of significant artistic, cultural, political and popular merit. There is no rational basis for Defendants’ distinction between, for example, places of worship and movie theatres for purposes of reopening, yet Defendants have allowed places of worship to reopen while movie theatres must remain closed, with no scheduled date for reopening.”

The movie theater chains actually have a solid case as to why they’re not being allowed to reopen while similar public assemblies are being allowed around the state. That could result in them being granted an injunction to allow them to reopen. However, with coronavirus cases on the rise across the country, there’s no good argument for why any of these places should be open right now, especially if they’re not requiring people to wear masks. So while it’s unfair that churches and libraries are allowed to be open while movie theaters aren’t, the fact is that we shouldn’t be reopening these venues at all right now, let alone forcing their reopening in the courts.

Movie theaters are desperate to get business back up and running. As of now, their hope is to reopen in early August before big blockbusters like Tenet and Mulan crank the box office back up. But some analysts don’t think that’s going to happen, and the release of those movies will likely be pushed back yet again. Coronavirus cases are still on the rise in California, where movie theaters have been closed yet again statewide, and New York City has no firm date to allow movie theaters to reopen. Since those are the two biggest markets for US box office, studios need them to be open in order to make it worth their while to release new movies in theaters.

Judge Martinotti wrote in his statement denying the restraining order:

“It is noteworthy that, as Plaintiffs file this application, states that initially ordered the re-opening of indoor movie theaters have once again ordered their closure in response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers.”

Yes, it is noteworthy, and that’s exactly why indoor movie theaters and other venues that allow large public gatherings need to remain closed. If we keep things shut down and require everyone to wear masks for a little bit, we can get back to normal much sooner. The director of the Center for Disease Control even recently said that the pandemic would be driven into the ground if everyone wore masks for four to six weeks. But for some, that’s just too much to ask.

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