Lawsuit challenges Dane County’s public health order banning indoor gatherings

MADISON, Wis. —  A lawsuit that was filed in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on Monday looks to overturn the gathering ban and restrictions recently put into place by Public Health Madison and Dane County.

The new public health order, which went into effect Wednesday, bans indoor mass gatherings with anyone outside of your household and limits outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people.

According to PHMDC’s website, in-person games, sports, group exercise classes, movies, conferences and similar events are all considered mass gatherings. You can read more about Emergency Order #10 here.

The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of Gymfinity Ltd., Jeffry Becker and Andrea Klein. It argues the order is an overreach of the legal authority granted to local health officers and an unlawful delegation of authority from local elected bodies.

Gymfinity is an 18,000 square foot gymnastics training center located in Fitchburg. WILL said the gym has established precautions to operate safely, including temperature checks and screenings. Gym staff has also adjusted schedules and rotations to limit contact and divided the gym into sections that are cleaned between classes.

The lawsuit states that the public health order shuts down most of the gym’s business, while allowing restaurants, bars and other retail establishments to stay open.

Becker and Klein each have multiple children that participate in youth sporting leagues and associations in Dane County. Each family says it has been directly impacted by the sports restrictions under the new order.

“Our job is to protect the health and safety of Madison and Dane County residents, and we will continue that mission on the foundation of science and data,” said Sarah Mattes, the communications supervisor for Madison and Dane County Public Health.

“We are confident that Order #10 is legal under the statute. We will not comment further on pending litigation.”

The new lawsuit comes as Wisconsin continues to see a rise in positive coronavirus cases. It was filed days after thousands of healthcare workers in Madison signed a letter asking people to follow CDC guidelines ahead of the holidays.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi responded to the lawsuit by saying conservative legal activists “have spent the better part of the past seven months fighting medicine and the only interventions available to slowing the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now, Wisconsin is in the midst of the greatest public health crisis in our state’s history because groups like this fought masks and social distancing for months, sowing chaos that’s now resulted in overflowing hospitals,” Parisi said in a statement Monday. “This is not the time for more division and havoc that harms human health and results in lives lost. Dane County will vigorously defend its orders because it is the right thing to do for people who are giving their all right now.”

A lawsuit was previously filed in the Wisconsin Supreme Court over Public Health Madison and Dane County’s Emergency Order #9, which ordered all Dane County schools to begin the 2020 school year virtually for students in grades 3-12.

In that case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended Dane County’s health order, but many of the area’s largest school districts continued with plans to remain virtual for the first half of the school year.