BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York State Supreme Court Judge Paul Wojtaszek ruled Tuesday that Athletes Unleashed in Orchard Park no longer needs to abide by executive orders issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that are more than 30 days old, according to attorney Todd Aldinger, of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria.
Aldinger tells 7 Eyewitness News that the case was won on statutory grounds. "The Governor has been issuing directives for more than 30 days. But the statute under which he issued this directives (Executive Law Section 29-a) does not allow him to extend directive beyond 30 days."
“I think this is the first time that a judge has reached the 30 day issue, it’s been raised before, but we’ve never had a case that was set up like the one we set up to get to that issue," Aldinger said. "And because we got to that issue, now we have one judge ruling on it and I think it will be very persuasive to all the other judges.”
The attorney said Tuesday, the restrictions Cuomo was placing on gyms were directives, which were all issued more than 30 days ago, except for the directive that gyms must close at 11 p.m. The executive order regarding closure time was issued on February 14, 2021.
“Well they can basically go back to pre-pandemic operation procedures, and they don’t have the class size limit,” Aldinger said.
A separate mask mandate was issued by the New York State Department of Health via a regulation and remains in place.
While the judge's ruling only applies to Athletes Unleashed, retired State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang said future cases could have similar outcomes.
“I think that it’s going to set a good precedent for other businesses, not just gyms, but other businesses that wish to challenge the regulations set forth through this executive order if they are more than 30 days old,” Wolfgang said.
Aldinger said if the governor wants to extend a 30 day directive it has to go through the legislature.
Wolfgang said because the case was in trial court, the ruling is not binding.
“It might be persuasive to other trial level judges, in other cases, but it certainly wouldn't be mandatory for them to follow,” Wolfgang said.
For future cases, she said this ruling would be most helpful for restaurants, salons, and other types of personal care businesses.
A judge ruled in December 2020 that Athletes Unleashed was allowed to reopen at 100 percent capacity after it was initially fined $15,000 for allegedly violating COVID-19 protocols.
“It seems like it’s following a pattern because most of the cases that have been brought challenging the executive order have been actually successful, haven’t they," Wolfgang said. "The restaurants were successful, now this gym is successful, so there seems to be a pattern."
According to Wolfgang, the state has 30 days to appeal the case.
“We are reviewing this decision, which applies only to this business, and are considering all options," said Jack Sterne, a spokesperson for the governor's office.