Kings Island, other amusement parks sue state day before reopening set

Kings Island remained closed on Friday. LAWRENCE BUDD/STAFF
Kings Island remained closed on Friday. LAWRENCE BUDD/STAFF

The day before Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said they could reopen in two weeks, Kings Island Amusement Park and Cedar Point amusement parks filed lawsuits against Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health over state orders restricting the reopening of water and amusement parks.

On Friday, DeWine announced amusement parks, water parks, racinos and casinos would be able to open in two weeks under plans developed in collaboration with the businesses.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Water, amusement parks, casinos, outdoor theaters to reopen June 19

It was unclear if or when the lawsuits in Warren and Erie counties would be dropped.

“The governor’s announcement was in response to the litigation. We’ll discuss whether two weeks is satisfactory or not,” said Maurice Thompson, one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuits.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in Warren County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Kings Island also names the Warren County Health District. The other filed in Erie County on behalf of Cedar Point and Kalahari Resorts also includes the local health department as a defendant.

Unless Cedar Point, Kings Island and Kalahari Resorts accept the two-week delay, a hearing will be held next week in Warren County to get preliminary injunction against the state and local health officials stopping enforcement of the state orders, according to Thompson.

“It might be soon enough for some and not for others,” Thompson said.

The lawsuits are part of a growing struggle over easing up on the orders limiting businesses in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Warren County lawsuit claims Acton lacks authority to order the restrictions preventing water parks and amusement parks like Kings Island from opening.

RELATED: Warren County officials discuss litigation over state restrictions affecting Kings Island opening

The lawsuit also claims a lack of due process allowing for appeal of the state orders.

In addition, the lawsuit claims the rules do not provide for equal protection under the law, by permitting some businesses but not others to operate.

The orders also violate the Doctrine of Separation of Powers and “delegated unfettered and unbridled vague power to unelected officials,” such as state and county health officials, according to the complaint filed Thursday in Lebanon.

RELATED: Kings Island postpones opening for more than a month

On Friday, DeWine said the reopening decision was the latest phase in a process designed to monitor results of reopenings to minimize a resurgence in new virus cases.

“The virus is still very much out there. It’s not going away,” he said.

Dewine complimented the businesses for helping to form the standards under which they will be able to open on June 19.

He said opening without standards made “absolutely no sense” and would have required him to abandon his duty as governor. Through a spokesman, DeWine declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Christopher Finney, a Cincinnati lawyer, and Thompson, of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Columbus, filed the lawsuits.

Finney and Thompson have filed other lawsuits in Ohio over the state’s coronavirus orders.

In Lake County, a judge granted a preliminary injunction against the state and local health officials stopping enforcement of state orders for gyms and fitness centers.

Earlier this week, Warren County officials said they had been urged by local officials to bring a lawsuit against the state over state restrictions on amusement parks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On Friday, Chad Showalter, spokesman for Kings Island, did not return calls seeking a response to the opening announcement and effect on the lawsuits.

On Thursday he referred questions to an on-line statement about reopening the park and a proposed state law that would result in immediate reopening.

"As professional amusement park operators with an exemplary safety record, we are experts at managing risks and following protocols. The protocols we have developed to reopen our parks are in accordance with governmental and CDC directives, Erie County and Warren County Health Departments, medical professionals, Ohio's Development Services Agency (DSA) and industry best practices. They are specifically responsive to the COVID-19 crisis," Richard Zimmerman, CEO, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., said in the statement.

MORE: Clearcreek Twp. to pay $200k in open-meetings case

Judge Donald Oda II has been assigned to the Warren County case.

The lawsuit follows criticism by local officials and a call for a lawsuit by Warren County against the state to enable Kings Island and the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village to welcome large crowds.

Deerfield Township trustees urged the county to bring the lawsuit. Instead the county commissioners were preparing a letter urging the state to rethink the order.

On Tuesday, Warren County Commissioner Tom Grossmann said he and wife Kathy Grossmann, mayor of Mason, were among those upset at the state’s unwillingness to consider options to the existing orders.

“I’m afraid they are not going to open this summer,” Grossmann said.

Another lawsuit was filed in Erie County Courts of Common Pleas on behalf of Cedar Point and Kalahari Resorts about the state order on amusement parks and water parks.

“‘The May 29 Order singles out amusement and water parks even as nearly all other Ohio businesses are permitted to operate. The Order provides no opening dates for these seasonal businesses that employ thousands and generate the bulk of the economic activity in their respective counties, even though these businesses are safe to operate,” Thompson said in a statement on the lawsuit.

The 1851 Center said the lawsuits “assert that the Health Director maintains no power to close otherwise lawful Ohio businesses or create her own sanctions to enforce those closures.

Further, the Order permits businesses with similar features, such as pools and large crowds, to open, while singling out amusement and water parks for disfavored treatment. Also, the Governor announced on June 4, 2020 the opening of many like-kind businesses.”

“The Ohio Constitution’s protections apply to all, including those businesses that the state’s highest public officials view as non-essential. The Governor and his Health Director must end their unnecessary and unconstitutional assault on Ohioans’ businesses and traditions,” Thompson said. “We and our clients remain committed to ensuring that these arbitrary policies never again recur.”