A federal judge in New Jersey on Tuesday denied the theater industry’s request for a temporary restraining order that would force the state to allow theaters to reopen.
Judge Brian R. Martinotti also set a schedule for litigating the industry’s request for an injunction on the matter, with a hearing expected on or before Aug. 4.
The National Association of Theatre Owners, along with several chains including AMC, Cinemark and Regal, filed suit on July 6, arguing that Gov. Phil Murphy had infringed on their First Amendment rights by ordering movie theaters to close while churches, libraries and other venues remain open. The ruling is a setback for the business, which had hoped that the injunction would mean that cinemas in a major market, one in close proximity to New York, could soon welcome patrons.
Most major exhibition chains have been closed since March, when coronavirus infections first began sweeping across the country. That’s resulted in billions of dollars in lost revenues. Exhibitors are hopeful that they can start screening films in the coming weeks, prove to customers that it’s safe to return to cinemas, and encourage studios to begin offering new releases such as “Tenet” and “Mulan.”
That effort has been setback, however, by the rise in coronavirus cases in states such as Texas, Arizona, and California. It is also complicated by the fact that New York City, the largest source of ticket sales, has yet to set a date for reopening cinemas.
The plaintiffs filed a motion on Monday seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction blocking enforcement of Murphy’s order. In a three-page order on Tuesday, Martinotti indicated that he is keeping tabs on other states’ restrictions as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide.
“It is noteworthy that, as Plaintiffs file this application, states that initially ordered the re-opening of indoor movie theaters have once again ordered their closure in response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers,” Martinotti wrote.
The judge directed the state to respond to the theaters’ request for an injunction by July 24.