A federal judge has dismissed the case of a Hattiesburg trampoline park whose owner filed suit against the City of Hattiesburg after being made to temporarily close the business because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
On Oct. 22, United States District Judge Keith Starrett ruled against Charles Bradford Ramey, the owner of Updown Trampoline Park on South 41st Avenue, who claimed the closure violated his constitutional rights. Starrett’s judgment states that given the number of deaths caused by the virus nationwide, the lack of any cure or vaccine, and the specific nature of the business, the court concluded that the city’s actions were rationally related to slowing the spread of the virus.
“The court believes it fair to assume that customers would congregate inside the business, and that children would run, jump, sweat, breathe heavily, and likely – if the undersigned judge’s experience with children is any indication – shout, laugh, and generally behave as children typically do when playing,” the judgment reads. “One need not be a doctor to see a rational connection between prohibiting the operation of such a facility and defendants’ objecting of slowing the spread of a virus that is transmitted via airborne particles and surface contact.
“Plaintiffs believe that their business does not pose a greater risk of transmission than other businesses, or that the benefit it provides to the community outweighs the risk. They may be right, but those are questions for the elected branches of government to address, rather than this court.”
On March 14, Gov. Tate Reeves issued Executive Order No. 1463, which forced the closure of “non-essential” businesses such as trampoline parks, gymnasiums, nail salons and recreational facilities. Three days later, Mayor Toby Barker issued an executive order stating that entertainment venues such as skating rinks and bowling alleys would be made to close, and extended that order on April 30, keeping those facilities closed.
On May 28, Reeves issued Executive Order No. 1492, the “Safe Return Order,” that allowed those businesses to reopen under certain restrictions.
“It appears to be undisputed that plaintiffs were permitted to legally open and operate their business once Executive Order No. 1492 was entered,” the judgment states. “However, the executive orders referenced above forced them to close their business from approximately March 17 until May 28, 2020.
“Plaintiffs apparently attempted to open their business during the shutdown in defiance of the orders, but Hattiesburg law enforcement officers issued citations to them and/or their employees.”
Ramey then filed suit against the City of Hattiesburg and Barker. The suit contended that the city’s actions were unconstitutional takings without due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Section 17 of the Mississippi Constitution.
It also contended that the city’s actions constituted an unreasonable seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, and violations of the right to procedural and substantive due process.
Starrett dismissed the case with prejudice.
“Judge Starrett’s decision is very well written and based on abundant case law allowing temporary closures of certain businesses for public safety,” Hattiesburg attorney Clark Hicks said.