Gym owners surround attorney James Mermigis in Syosset Wednesday as...

Gym owners surround attorney James Mermigis in Syosset Wednesday as he talks about the lawsuit. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hundreds of gyms, including many on Long Island, are suing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the state attorney general and New York State, alleging that the governor’s continued shutdown orders have caused “irreparable harm” to their livelihood and is unconstitutional.

The class action suit, filed Thursday in the state Supreme Court by the Syosset-based Mermigis Law Group, is suing the state for $500 million for what it says is hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, along with the resultant layoffs of 70,000 employees statewide.

The plaintiffs allege that Cuomo’s executive shutdown order violated their due process, and that the decision to not allow gyms to open while spas, retail and other businesses operate is discriminatory. It also claims that the distinction between essential and nonessential businesses at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was arbitrary.

Jason Conwall, the governor’s deputy communications director, said, "We can't comment on a lawsuit we haven't seen yet, but there are some things that don’t fit neatly into a phase that are going to require further study, and we’re going through that right now.

“We’re not going to be like other states that are inviting a second wave,"​ Conwall said.

Gyms were originally expected to open with Phase 4 on Long Island, which began on July 8, but this was later amended.

There is “no rational basis” to keep gyms and fitness centers closed since the governor announced the virus is contained, the lawsuit said, and such action deprives gym owners of “their liberty and property interests in performing services to willing customers when they can do so safely and in the same (or reasonably safe equivalent) manner as other businesses [are] allowed to operate.”

The lawsuit says to be representing “several hundred members,” though a full count has not been made, as well as all other state gyms affected by the decision. The primary plaintiff is the Jefferson County-based Thousand Island Fitness Center, which is under threat of closure. The suit originated on Long Island, with Charles Cassara, owner of SC Fitness, which has locations in Hicksville and Farmingdale.

Health experts appear to be divided on whether gyms are relatively safe. A Norwegian study, cited in the lawsuit, found that those who decided to work out at gyms were not more likely to contract COVID-19. Meanwhile, in a paper published by the Centers for Disease Control, researchers in South Korea discovered 112 COVID-19 cases linked to workout classes in 12 locations. Sweat, common touch points, heavy breathing or even yelling are conducive to the spread of the virus.

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