Four days before the Minnesota Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against the owner of a Plainview fitness center, the owner reportedly told an assistant Minnesota attorney general his “doors will be open forever” despite an executive order closing fitness centers for four weeks.
The statement, allegedly made by Brandon Reiter, was included in the 13-page lawsuit filed in Wabasha County District Court on Tuesday, Nov. 24, by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. The AG’s office has also filed for a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction.
The lawsuit alleges that Reiter’s fitness center, Plainview Wellness Center, is violating Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-99, which ordered that fitness centers and other places of entertainment close, and that bars and restaurants suspend indoor service for four weeks. The order went into effect Friday, Nov. 20, at 11:59 p.m.
“Despite that potential harm to Minnesotans, Plainview Wellness Center has refused to comply with Executive Order 20-99. Defendant promoted on the gym’s Facebook page it would not be closing and would instead keep its regular schedule of being open 24-hours a day,” the lawsuit reads. “In short, Plainview Wellness Center is ignoring the risks of the virus and have disregarded the prohibitions established by Executive Order 20-99 to protect the public’s health and safety.”
The same day Walz announced the new executive order, Nov. 18, Plainview Wellness Center posted on its Facebook page that it would not be closing.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Reiter said his center was open and that he’d received an email with the court filings earlier that day, but that he had not yet had a chance to read them in their entirety.
He had also not yet hired a lawyer but said that a number of attorneys reached out to him in the spring when he first reopened his fitness center in defiance of the stay-at-home order. He said he’d remain open until he was told otherwise by his attorney.
According to court records, an assistant attorney general with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office called Reiter on Nov. 20 to ask whether it was his intent to stay open once the executive order went into effect.
“Mr. Reiter responded ‘Yes, I do plan to remain open,’ ” the lawsuit states. ”When it was explained to him that remaining open would be in violation of Executive Order 20-99 and potentially subject him to an enforcement action, he said he was ‘sick of this f***ing bullshit.’ ”
Reiter also said that he did not have any cases of COVID-19 in his gym and that he would “violate whatever I want. This is America.”
On Nov. 23, an investigator with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office contacted the fitness center and confirmed that the fitness center would open and that Reiter was scheduling member sign-ups.
Reiter acknowledged Wednesday that his language in the call was unprofessional but said “the discrimination against small businesses in this state, with our governor, is ridiculous, and I'm passionate about it.”
“I defended my country, spent eight years in the Army, in the Minnesota National Guard, and this is frustrating to me,” he said. “We have those tens of thousands of veterans that live in this state, not to mention the United States, that didn't sign that blank check for the United States government, and then now our freedoms are being infringed upon for us to live our American dream.”
“Whether it’s to run a business or being able to go to your family's place for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or things like that, it’s frustrating,” he said. “It goes above just the small-business aspect with me now, like, it really hits home and it's extremely personal.”
According to the AG’s filing, the Minnesota Department of Health’s contact-tracing investigations have shown that apart from long-term care settings, gyms are among the settings most frequently associated with COVID-19 outbreaks in the state. MDH has traced 49 outbreaks and 750 cases of COVID-19 to gyms in the state.
In May, Reiter told the Post Bulletin he had no choice but to open the doors to avoid bankruptcy.
Reiter said at that time that he wasn’t downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic or its effect on many people, but felt he could apply some of the same safety guidelines of big-box stores to his own business.
On Wednesday, Reiter again highlighted big-box stores. His fitness center has about 200 members, he said, but in a 10- to 12-hour period, only about 30 people come through his doors.
“Coming into the holiday season, that is what frustrates me — come Friday morning, there is probably going to be more people going through a big-box store than the population of this town that I live in and the surrounding communities,” he said. “And yet they are worried about having gyms or these other small businesses, make it sound like we're the ones that are spreading this virus. It's asinine to me.”
This is the first enforcement action the Attorney General’s Office has brought under Executive Order 20-99 and the third enforcement action the state has taken in response to violations of pandemic-related executive orders.