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Golfland Sunsplash suing Gov. Doug Ducey over water park closures

Golfland Sunsplash
Posted at 5:03 PM, Aug 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-12 01:28:13-04

MESA, AZ — Golfland Sunsplash, an amusement and water park in Mesa, has filed a lawsuit against Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey claiming the state forced their "Sunsplash" water park to close during the novel coronavirus pandemic, with no reopening guidelines. This, while other water parks at nearby hotels, cities, and parks were allowed to reopen, the water park said.

"We feel like we’ve been treated unfairly when it comes to executive orders that were put out," said Steve Carlston, General Manager of the park. "It feels like it’s been a picking of winners and losers, and we are on the loser side. It’s key to point out other water parks in the state have been operating the whole time."

The lawsuit announcement comes one day after the Governor's Office and the Arizona Department of Health Services released a series of benchmarks that must be met in order for water parks, bars, gyms, fitness centers, and tube operators to potentially reopen. That decision was the result of a separate lawsuit from the owners of gyms and fitness centers who felt they were unfairly targeted by Gov. Ducey's June executive order that forced them and other industries to close.

“Even when called to the state’s attention that other parks were still open, the state still took no action to close the other parks or allow Golfland Sunsplash to open," said Carlston.

In its lawsuit, Golfland Sunsplash alleges that while Gov. Ducey's executive order in June closed water parks and other industries, it allowed pools at hotels and in some communities to remain open. The lawsuit then cites various hotels and resorts around the Valley believed to be open, that have multiple pools and water park-type attractions, such as lazy rivers, water slides, and surf simulators.

Golfland Sunsplash also claims that it filed an attestation form with the Governor's Office and Arizona Department of Health Services to prove that it met current CDC guidelines, but never heard back from either.

The owners are seeking an injunction against the executive order, an undisclosed amount in damages, and to cover legal fees.

Another industry, bars, is also pushing back and preparing for a long battle with the governor. "Since the governor released the guidelines on Monday, I’ve been flooded with additional requests. So I think we are up to 75, maybe 80 bars now, and climbing by the minute," said Ilan Wurman, as associate professor at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

Wurman said he had no plans to get in a legal brawl with the state's top leader, but felt compelled when bars told him they had no other options for saving their businesses. "The latest guidelines have made them lose all hope. The guidelines will not be able to be met for several months, maybe a year," he said.

Dr. Christ and other top staffers with the governor's office are more optimistic, and believe businesses may be able to reopen in the coming weeks, as Arizona continues to trend in the right direction when it comes percent positivity and cases.

In their lawsuit, Wurman and the bars question the governor’s power to make these decisions alone. "The legislature can’t give up its power to the governor. It can’t delegate away its legislative power," said Wurman.

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In their reply, the governor's lawyers retort that the legislature has been involved in the state's COVID response and has the ability to check the governor's power if they feel he is overstepping.

The lawsuit also alleges that Ducey is treating certain businesses unfairly, since restaurant and hotel bars can stay open. "The only difference here is the political power of the restaurant industry in Arizona. And that’s not fair, in fact it’s unconstitutional," said Wurman.

The governor and Dr. Christ, have repeatedly said that bars, alongside water parks and movie theaters and clubs, pose a higher risk for the spread of the virus.

The governor's office has already won multiple lawsuits, and pointed to their prior success against Mountainside as a reason to quickly dismiss the lawsuit.

The state's lawyers though, will likely have to fight many more legal battles in the coming weeks and months. And many businesses will be eagerly awaiting the decisions..

"They made these guidelines with the stroke of a pen and they could undo them with the stroke of a pen," said Wurman.

In March, when cases began to increase in the Phoenix area and around the state, various attractions began to temporarily close. Gov. Ducey then issued an executive order, closing restaurant dining rooms, gyms, and movie theaters.

Those restrictions were loosened in mid-May when Gov. Ducey's stay-at-home order was allowed to expire. Golfland Sunsplash intended to reopen some of its water slides then, but received some public backlash over social distancing concerns.

In June, Gov. Ducey issued a new executive order that forced water parks, gyms, movie theaters, and bars to shut down again as the state saw an increase in COVID-19 cases. That order has since been extended indefinitely with Gov. Ducey saying it would be reviewed every two weeks. It remains in effect.

Big Surf announced earlier this summer that it would remain closed for the season. Six Flags' Hurricane Harbor water park in Glendale reopened for a week or two in June, but closed because of the executive order. It recently announced that it would remain closed for the season.

Great Wolf Lodge, which has an indoor water park, has reopened. However, because it is part of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, it falls under their jurisdiction and guidance, not Gov. Doug Ducey's.