Movie theater giants AMC, Cinemark, and Regal filed a lawsuit yesterday against the state of New Jersey for forcing them to keep their businesses closed during the covid-19 pandemic, yet allowing churches and other places of assembly to remain open. Spotted by The Hollywood Reporter, the theater chains have called the closure order “unconstitutional and unlawful,” claiming that it’s a violation of the companies’ first amendment rights, equal protection of the laws, due process, and taking property without just compensation.
The lawsuit says that New Jersey allowed certain businesses to reopen on July 2, 2020, like libraries, museums, and other “recreational and entertainment businesses,” but movie theaters weren’t included in that distinction. “Although Defendants have issued orders allowing other public assemblies such as religious services and ceremonies to open, they have withheld approval for movie theaters, which are similarly situated, if not less of a risk, from a public health perspective.”
Other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit include smaller theaters and non-profit organizations, such as the National Organization of Theatre Owners (NATO), Bow Tie, and Community Theaters, which is a member of NATO.
It’s questionable if these large movie theater chains will still be around in some capacity, even if the pandemic doesn’t end any time soon. AMC said in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission last month that it’s generating effectively no revenue since its theaters have been ordered to remain closed due to the pandemic.
However, now appears to be a better time for these movie theaters to pursue this lawsuit, given that they recently changed their mask policies. AMC announced two weeks before the lawsuit was filed that it would require patrons to wear masks while inside its theaters after receiving backlash over its initial decision to not make it mandatory. AMC CEO and President Adam Aron told Variety that the company “did not want to be drawn into a political controversy.”
Cinemark also recently decided to require its moviegoers to wear masks while inside its establishments. It had previously encouraged its patrons to abide by local laws to help them decide if they should wear a mask or not.
Regal’s current guidelines require guests to wear face masks in the lobby, hallways, and restrooms, but not in the auditorium if they are eating or drinking. The theater chain will also reduce its auditorium capacities to 50% only when required by state or county mandate.
However, it’s nearly impossible to enforce the mask policy once patrons are inside the theater itself. Masks have to come off to eat and drink, but regardless of why they come off, it’s still an issue that they are off at all, especially in enclosed areas. A recent investigation by KHQ News, with the help of Providence Sacred Heart and Holy Family/Providence Health Care, Eastern Washington, showed that masks are incredibly effective in stopping the spread of droplets, which is how covid-19 spreads.
Update 7/7/20 3:45 P.M. ET: A previous version of this article said Cinemark’s CEO and President was Adam Aron. Adam Aron is AMC’s CEO and President.