Gym Owner Suing Ducey Over Shutdown Order Makes Misleading Claims About Lawsuit

Gym Owner Suing Ducey Over Shutdown Order Makes Misleading Claims About Lawsuit
Mountainside Fitness
The CEO of Mountainside Fitness suing Governor Doug Ducey over a new closure order for bars and gyms made numerous false claims in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

The news release, which was issued on June 30, the same day that the lawsuit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, claimed that CEO Tom Hatten had "partnered with the Goldwater Institute [a Phoenix-based Libertarian public policy think-tank] to file the claim."

But that's not true. Jennifer Tiedemann, deputy director of communications at Goldwater Institute, told Phoenix New Times in an email that they are "not involved in the lawsuit." Another Goldwater Institute staffer reportedly told a Arizona Mirror reporter the same thing.

When asked for an explanation, Jennifer Parks-Sturgeon, a spokeswoman for Hatten, told New Times that the language stemmed from the fact that Hatten consulted with staff at Goldwater Institute several months ago regarding the constitutionality of Ducey's original shutdown order.

"The only tie-in with the Goldwater Institute was that is who Tom originally consulted with several months ago when he was looking at this shutdown the first time," she said. "They are absolutely not part of the complaint."

Responding to questions about whether the language was misleading, Parks-Sturgeon said: "I’m not going to comment ... Tom speaks for himself."

"Perhaps the word partner is not the correct word choice," she added in a text message responding to a follow-up question about whether Hatten lied in the news release. "Tom Hatten consulted with the Goldwater Institute several months ago on the constitutionality of the shut down."

New Times requested an interview with Hatten himself, but never heard from him.

"I don’t think he’s available," Parks-Sturgeon said. "And I don’t think he does want to do an interview."

The news release also claimed that other gym chains joined Mountainside Fitness' lawsuit. Specifically, the release states: "Lifetime Fitness and others have joined the suit."

However, Life Time staff told New Times that they are not involved in the lawsuit, either.

"We are in support of this but we have not formally joined in it," said Natalie Bushaw, a Life Time spokeswoman.

Joel Sannes, an attorney representing Mountainside Fitness in the lawsuit, told New Times that Life Time is not "legally" involved in the lawsuit.

"Legally, Life Time has not joined the lawsuit," he said. "If he would have said 'Life Time and other fitness centers support the lawsuit,' that would have been accurate."

Sannes added that, when the press release was drafted, Hatten likely thought that other fitness centers would join the lawsuit.

"At that time, he probably thought that Life Time and other fitness centers were going to join the lawsuit," he said. "But after we were able to quickly develop our legal theories, we realized it’s probably not necessary for other fitness centers to legally join the lawsuit."

When asked if Hatten's phrasing was misleading, Sannes quibbled over the semantics of the word "joined," claiming that it could mean any number of things, including supporting the lawsuit from afar without being legally involved.

"I don’t think he jumped the gun," he said. "I think he was accurate for what Tom meant by 'join[ed]' the lawsuit, that they would support it."

Meanwhile, gyms defying Ducey's executive order continue by staying open continue to face repercussions. The state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control announced on Wednesday that it suspended liquor licenses associated with the Life Time gym on East Camelback Road for violating the shutdown order. On Tuesday, Scottsdale police cited Mario Arce, chief operating officer for Mountainside Fitness, alleging that the gym was violating the governor's order to close, a Class One misdemeanor.
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Josh Kelety was a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety