Communities across the country continue to walk the COVID tightrope as cities and states teeter between rolling back quarantine mandates and reinstating restrictions following recent caseload spikes, but one New Jersey gym is embroiled in a heated battle with local government over the right to open and operate.
Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey has made national headlines after owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti reopened on May 18 in defiance of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and the statewide order that gyms and other “non-essential” businesses remain closed.
- Rock Bottom Nutrition, another business also owned by Trumbetti and Smith, operates out of the same building and has been similarly affected by the shutdown and legal standoff.
- We’ve seen this before: Back in May we detailed how 2015 Games athlete Chad Cole and his Las Vegas affiliate locked horns with local government over the right to open and operate his gym in the midst of fluctuating pandemic restrictions.
A hefty timeline: The battle between Atilis Gym and the state of New Jersey has lasted over two months and includes multiple incidents in and out of court. A more detailed timeline is available through owner Ian Smith’s instagram.
- March 16: Governor Murphy signs executive order 104, implementing social distancing measures and closing a collection of businesses including gyms.
- May 2: The state begins relaxing restrictions, first opening up state parks and golf courses to the public.
- May 11: Atilis Gym releases a public statement via instagram criticizing the current level of restrictions, and declaring they intend to open regardless of state restrictions the following Monday with a detailed safety plan and cleaning protocol outlined in the video.
- May 13: The story makes national news as Smith is interviewed on Fox News during the Tucker Carlson Tonight show.
- May 14: Governor Murphy acknowledges during a public hearing that he is aware of the Atilis Gym’s plan to reopen and that they are “out of compliance.”
- May 18: Atilis Gym Bellmawr opens, and are formally told they are in violation of an executive order, Smith and Trumbetti are handed a court summons detail and possible $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail, but are allowed to continue operating.
- May 22: Atilis Gym closes due to court order via the New Jersey court system following a health mandate implemented May 20 and the doors of the gym are locked and chained by health officials, additionally the state relaxes restrictions allowing outdoor recreation businesses including beaches, boardwalks, tennis clubs, and batting cages.
Following the court order the legal battle between Atilis and the state picked up considerable steam as the gym through their lawyers filed an injunction against the state and Governor Murphy and were given a court date on June 5 to present their case against the state closures.
- June 16: While awaiting a decision for the Atilis Gym, Rock Bottom Nutrition wins in state court against Governor Murphy to have the locks removed from the building. The following day equipment is moved outside and outdoor workouts for the gym resume.
- July 1: Following the refusal from a federal judge to make a ruling on the matter, Smith and Trumbetti file an emergency injunction request for a state court date to have their case heard in front of a judge, and are denied.
- July 18: Smith and Trumbetti are charged with contempt of court by the Health Department, and are told that they will be once again closed down. Smith releases a statement that they will stay open and lock themselves inside the building if needed.
- July 20: Judge Robert Lougy rules that Smith and Trumbetti are not in contempt of court.
- July 23: New charges of contempt of court are filed, and Smith and Trumbetti are notified that their gym will once again be forcibly closed.
- July 24: Smith and Trumbetti switch the business from a Limited Liability Company (LLC) to a Private Membership Association (PMA) in hopes of retaining their right to assemble and keep the business open.
- July 27: County Sheriffs arrive at Atilis Gym Bellmawr, arresting and removing both Smith and Trumbetti before boarding up the business. Smith and Trumbetti are released shortly thereafter.
New Jersey by the numbers: Since becoming one of the world’s hot spots for new cases, infection rates, and death rate in the month of April and early May, the numbers around coronavirus in New Jersey have been at a steady decline for the past two months.
- The daily new cases have consistently been below 500 per day since June 13 – daily new cases had been above that mark since March 21 – and on July 19 there were just 47 new cases, the lowest single day total since March 15.
- As of Tuesday, there were 44,408 active cases, the lowest total since April 7, and at the peak, New Jersey had more than 134,000 active cases at one time.
- The death rate and daily death numbers have also fallen drastically (thankfully), with single digit number of deaths for four consecutive days on July 19-22 – including only 16 recorded deaths Tuesday – and only 787 total deaths in the past month.
- It goes without saying that the death numbers are tragic regardless, but for reference New Jersey had a single day total of 523 on April 30, and recorded 7,944 deaths in the month of April.
As a result, the state and Governor Murphy have slowly moved toward the process of reopening over the course of the past two months, with gyms allowed to resume outdoor operations and limited indoor activities.
Atilis Gym Bellmawr is still closed, and the battle between Smith, Trumbetti, and Governor Murphy remains an ongoing situation.
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