OCEAN COUNTY – A local law firm has challenged Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Orders closing stores and shutting down gatherings such as graduations, calling the moves arbitrary and illegal.
The governor’s office was asked for a comment, but a spokesperson said the governor does not comment on active litigation.
The shutdown orders were done to promote social distancing, one of the only things known to slow the spread of COVID-19. Medical professionals have said these regulations are necessary in order to keep the numbers of patients at a level where hospitals can keep up with it. Now that some hospitals are reporting more coronavirus patients being released than being admitted, officials are saying that the social distancing is working.
However, critics of the shutdowns have called them arbitrary, capricious, and infringing on their rights.
Michael Deem, an attorney with R.C. Shea and Associates, filed suit against the governor in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court. He represents high school seniors wanting to go to graduation and business owners who are suffering because they are closed down.
Other defendants are Col. Patrick J. Callahan, in his official capacity as the State Director of Emergency Management and as Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, and Assistant Education Commissioner AbdulSaleem Hasan.
All non-essential businesses were shut down, but how is “non-essential” defined? Deem said that Wal-Marts are open, because they sell food. But they also sell clothes, toys, and other items. There are small business owners who sell clothes and toys, but they were required to shut down.
The shutdown orders, therefore, unfairly benefit big business, the lawsuit alleges.
There are stores that are closed to the public that have ways to open safely, but are not allowed, he said. The recent order allowing non-essential retail to offer curbside assistance is too little, too late.
The lawsuit gives examples that the shutdowns were done in an “arbitrary, unreasonable, and capricious manner.”
Perfect Swing Golf has one customer in the store at a time, and would be able to operate safely. Meanwhile, a big box store can sell golf clubs.
Car Wash and Beyond had to close, but a gas station that has a car wash can remain open.
Furthermore, to continue with Wal-Mart as an example, that store can be full of people. What’s the difference between that and having a group of people at a graduation?
The suit goes into detail about how to hold a graduation ceremony for Toms River East’s graduating class while still keeping them 6 feet apart from one another.
Peaceful assembly is a Constitutional right, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit says that the state’s response to the pandemic will set a precedent for any future outbreaks.
There’s also a constitutional argument, Deem explained. There are certain steps that Murphy was required to do before issuing Executive Orders that he said were not followed.
The plaintiffs in the case are Car Wash and Beyond, Razberri Hair & Nail Design, Perfect Swing Golf, and Scott Convery, Justin Tucker, Allison Lanzano, Grisel Wilenta as administrator ad prosequendum for Arianna Wilenta, Gina DiPasquale and Isabella Ghanbary, graduating seniors of Toms River High School East.
The plaintiffs seek a permanent stop to the Executive Order, fees, and any other equitable relief