Johnson County boutique gym owners say they’ll sue the state over right to reopen next week

The owners of a Johnson County boutique gym are threatening to pursue legal action against the state if their boutique workout studio is not allowed to reopen to the public next week.

Mike Green and his wife Jena own The Body Lab, a pilates studio with locations in Leawood and Prairie Village. As a gym, under the state’s current plan, the Greens would not be allowed to reopen until toward the end of the detailed four-phase plan for the reopening of businesses, churches and non-profits drafted by the Johnson County Kansas Recovery Planning Task Force.

Mike Green says that his gym can operate safely and that if the State of Kansas does not want his gym open it’s up to Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, to prove it’s not safe.

“The burden of proof is on the state to show if we’re not operating safely and we’re not reopening safely,” Mike Green says. “Even though we are going to do that and have done that to help alleviate any potential implication, at the end of the day it’s not really my obligation to prove to, for example, Gov. Kelly and her administration, that I can reopen safely. She has to prove that I’m not.”

Kelly could not be reached for comment by Kansas City.

Kelly’s current plan is not set in stone, but the draft seeks to roll out lower-risk businesses first. The first phase, which would begin May 4 and extend through May 31, would see restaurants allowed to offer dine-in service at half their normal capacity and stores allowed to open with certain guidelines. Gatherings of more than ten people would still be prohibited.

The Greens started a petition titled “Kansas Boutique Fitness Coalition” to urge the governor to let smaller gyms open on May 4.

“It is our hope that the State of Kansas and Johnson County will see that they have NOT given deference to the business owners, like us, and individuals with respect to our fundamental civil rights,” the petition reads. “This is required by the U.S. Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court.”

The petition has 998 signatures and counting.

Mike Green argues that small fitness studios like his own are drastically different from big-box gyms, which host more people and use more equipment plus communal facilities like showers and locker rooms.

“We feel like we can reopen safely and that being categorized as a gym is extremely problematic,” the fitness studio owner says. “I would have preferred to have seen Johnson County make a differentiation between a gym and a studio because there is a big difference. And I think that distinction really needs to be made not only within the county in the state but also nationally at the federal level.”

While some studio gyms are still operating virtually under stay-at-home orders, it’s not as easy for The Body Lab. The pilates gym is known for utilizing the popular Megaformer, a large resistance-workout pilates machine that can cost $10,000 each.

Mike Green believes his position is supported by a Monday memo from U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” read the memo from the nation’s top lawyer.

Mike Green says that it’s the government’s “obligation to both defend and protect citizens’ health and at the same time show as much deference as they can to protect the civil liberties of individuals.”

If The Body Lab were to open to the public on Monday, Mike Green says along with taking sanitary precautions, Megaformer machines will be spaced nine feet apart and that classes would have seven students (a typical class has twelve) and one trainer. This would create a maximum of eight individuals in either of his 1500 square-foot studios.

And if Gov. Kelly says The Body Lab can’t reopen on Monday?

“The one thing that we have to look at collectively, unfortunately, is an injunction or a [temporary restraining order] to at least have the U.S. District Court look at it from that perspective of an overreach,” he says. “That’s kind of the step we would love to avoid. We don’t want to go down that road if we don’t have to, but obviously we have to prepare for that.”

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