Judge dismisses lawsuit against Hattiesburg, mayor over COVID-19 business closure
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday filed by the owners of a Hattiesburg business against the city and its mayor over a temporary COVID-19 closure.
Charles Bradford “Ford” Ramey and Herbert Taylor Ramey, owners of Updown Trampoline Park, filed the lawsuit on May 22.
They claimed the city and Mayor Toby Barker violated their constitutional rights when their business was forced to temporarily close under executive orders from Gov. Tate Reeves and Barker. The orders restricting certain business operations were intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Senior U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett granted the city’s motion to dismiss the case, citing legal precedent that rights may be “reasonably restricted” during a public health crisis.
In his ruling, Starrett applied Jacobson v. Massachusetts, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that “a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.”
Starrett ruled the city was within its rights to enforce the governor’s orders to not allow the indoor trampoline park to reopen because it was in relation to the city’s stated goal of protecting its residents during a public health crisis.
“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," Starrett wrote in the ruling. “One need not be a doctor to see a rational connection between prohibiting the operation of such a facility and Defendants' objective of slowing the spread of a virus that is transmitted via airborne particles and surface contact.”
Reeves declared a state of emergency on March 14 and later issued an executive order placing restrictions on business operations. Updown Trampoline Park was not considered an essential business under the order.
Barker issued an executive order on March 17 closing entertainment venues, gyms and fitness centers. Reeves then closed all nonessential businesses in a statewide shelter-in-place order on April 1.
In a subsequent order on April 24, Reeves eased restrictions on nonessential businesses but mandated that all places of amusement and fitness centers remain closed.
Gyms and fitness centers were allowed to reopen in Hattiesburg on May 10, but places of amusement were still not permitted to reopen under state and local orders.
Reeves allowed the reopening of outdoor places of amusement on May 25, while indoor places of amusement were to remain closed.
Updown Trampoline Park attempted to reopen against state and local orders, with Hattiesburg police officers and the fire marshal showing up to the business on May 20.
Body camera footage obtained from the Hattiesburg Fire Department shows officers asking employees to close the business to comply with the governor’s orders. Citations were issued to the business after it did not close.
Emails between Barker and Reeves' office on May 15 and May 22 show the city acted on guidance from the governor’s office in not allowing the business to reopen.
Indoor places of amusement, including Updown Trampoline Park, were allowed to reopen under certain restrictions after Reeves issued his Safe Return Order on May 24.
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