Judge denies compensation for Vermont gym shut down by COVID-19 restrictions

A Vermont judge has declined to award damages for a gym owner who saw his income plummet because of Gov. Phil Scott’s COVID-19 shutdown orders. 

Sean Manovill and his Club Fitness gyms in Rutland and Castleton have been locked in a legal battle with the state over the shutdown.

In the most recent arguments, Club Fitness and Manovill sought damages for the “economic and emotional distress losses” they suffered starting in March when the governor ordered gyms to cease all in-person operations.

Sean Manovill, owner of Club Fitness of Vermont, poses with exercise equipment he moved outside so the Rutland, Vt., gym could reopen on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. The Vermont attorney general sued him and the fitness center for being open on Friday, which he said was against the state rules amid the coronavirus outbreak, and judge granted an order to temporarily close it.

Manovill defied the shutdown by reopening, prompting Vermont’s first lawsuit to enforce the order. He also converted the Rutland location to an outdoor fitness facility for several days in May until the attorney general intervened.

Gyms and similar businesses were allowed to reopen with restrictions on June 1.

The United States and Vermont Constitutions require compensation when private property is “taken” for public use.

In a ruling dated Sept. 24, Superior Court Judge Robert Mello said the governor’s order did not constitute a “taking” of the gym. Mello said the gym could have made up some of their lost income by creating online fitness classes or instructional videos.

“Common sense prevails,” Attorney General T.J. Donovan wrote in a social media post celebrating the decision.  

Manovill is planning to close his fitness center and move out of Vermont because of the loss of business, according to the judge’s decision.

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Contact April McCullum at 802-660-1863 or amccullum@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @April_McCullum

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