Attorney James Mermigis specializes in business, commercial, matrimonial, probate, personal injury, and constitutional law. He supports Donald Trump and joins the “Movement for Medical Freedom”, which speaks out against vaccine mandates, including any mandates that may be given for the coronavirus. Last year, Mermigis, who lives in Syosset, Long Island, made some headlines when he represented an Amish family in western New York who protested the state’s end of religious exemptions for child vaccinations. He lost this case. Business has picked up this year anyway.
Since the summer, Mermigis has filed more than half a dozen lawsuits against New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on behalf of thousands of small businesses that had to shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. Its clients include restaurants, health clubs, Off Broadway theaters, comedy clubs, and pool halls. The lawsuits not only ask the judges to relax or even lift the shutdown orders, but also intend to collectively seek damages of up to $ 5 billion. The judges were skeptical of Mermigis’ arguments, but Mermigis keeps filing new cases.
“I’ve slept three and a half hours a night since June,” Mermigis told me when I called him recently. “It’s like a John Grisham novel to be honest.” I had asked how he had become the lawyer for all these small businesses. “It’s crazy how I’m the only one who really does this,” he said. “There are real politicians in Michigan who sued the governor. The same applies to Pennsylvania. I was not approached by a New York politician to sue the governor. “
Mermigis said his anti-shutdown work started with the gyms. In mid-May, the owners of Atilis, a gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey, hired Mermigis as they prepared to stay open despite their state’s shutdown orders. (According to the owners, Atilis has fined more than $ 1 million since then.) Not long after, Charlie Cassara, a Long Island man who owns two gyms not far from Mermigis’ office, called him.
Unlike Atilis’ owners, Cassara did not want to break public health guidelines. But he became more and more desperate. His stores have been closed for months, he told Mermigis, and as the number of infections in the state fell and the government announced successive phases of reopening, gyms were excluded from the plans. At a press conference in mid-June, Cuomo told reporters that the gyms would remain closed, although the fourth phase of reopening would allow tanning salons, tattoo shops, piercing salons and spas to open with restrictions.
“By that point we were already back rent, bills coming in, mortgages, the whole nine,” Cassara told me. “I heard Governor Cuomo’s press. I woke up the next morning and called my personal attorney for a recommendation. She recommended James Mermigis. “
Mermigis and Cassara discussed the possibility of a lawsuit, and Mermigis suggested that Cassara find some other gym owners to help cover the costs. Cassara found ten other owners who wanted to join. That number rose to a hundred, then to two thousand. They started an organization called the New York Fitness Coalition. Cassara became the president. In the meantime, Mermigis began looking for a place to file the lawsuit. “I went to the Politico website,” he said. “I was looking at the results of the 2018 election when Cuomo ran for re-election. I basically looked at the jurisdictions where it was demolished. “He settled in Jefferson County, where Cuomo received only thirty percent of the vote. “Half the battle is choosing the right judge,” said Mermigis.
The lawsuit at the gym was filed on July 29th. It begins with quotes from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Senator Rand Paul. Targeting the spring and summer protests against Black Lives Matter, it asks why “there is no public health for marches, but someone who wants to open their gyms with CDC safety guidelines is putting the public at risk.” It accuses Cuomo of his To have “selectively” enforced shutdown commands; The openings of tattoo and piercing parlors are often mentioned. It is recognized that the virus “caused discomfort and insecurity to an extent not seen in many years,” but makes no mention of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers killed by the virus. The lawsuit also argues that plaintiffs risk losing their business if things continue the same way.
On August 6, a week after the complaint was filed, the governor said that “gyms are very problematic”. However, on August 17, Cuomo announced that he intended to allow gyms to open with restrictions. Mermigis claims to honor the reversal, although some members of the state parliament asked Cuomo to open the gyms at the same time.
In any case, these developments brought Mermigis new attention and customers. At the beginning of September, “Fox & Friends” invited him for an interview. A group of New York City restaurant owners (including Lady Gaga’s father, Joe Germanotta, who owns Joanne Trattoria on the Upper West Side) asked him for help reopening the indoor restaurant. When it reopened, they began battling city-specific restriction that restricted indoor dining to 25 percent capacity while the rest of the state was 50 percent. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that Mermigis filed on behalf of the restaurants is Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant in Queens just five hundred feet from the Nassau county border. “There is absolutely no science that would prove that indoor dining one block east of Plaintiff’s restaurant is safer,” the lawsuit said. In November, a Staten Island judge ruled the restaurants, stating that the state government had “the right to pass quarantine laws to protect the life and health of the public within their borders to prevent suffering from an infectious disease”. (More recently, Mermigis also represented a group of New York parents suing de Blasio over recent school closings. In this case, one of his plaintiffs was Joe Borelli, a Staten Island councilor who had 11 people in his house for Thanksgiving.)
Perceived inconsistencies in applying coronavirus restrictions to small businesses, as well as a lack of government assistance, drew other customers to Mermigis. “When I read that the bowling alleys were open, I kind of lost them,” said Catherine Russell, actress and general manager at the Theater Center in Manhattan. Russell stars in Perfect Crime, the crime show that has been playing Off Broadway since 1987. (She’s only missed four shows since the show opened – she was once named “Cal Ripken of Broadway” by People Magazine.) A. The box office guy at the theater suggested that she call the lawyer he had seen representing restaurants. Mermigis filed a lawsuit on behalf of Russell’s company, as well as five other theater companies and two comedy clubs. Russell had paid to install an air filter system in their room and bought plastic masks that their actors could wear. She asked me why “Saturday Night Live” was allowed to take place in front of an audience – a loophole in the law allowed the show to pay viewers as “extras” – while theaters like hers were empty and their cast and crew went without paychecks.
“It seems like small venues slipped through the cracks,” said Russell, “and no one said anything.” What made opening their space with restrictions riskier than opening restaurants with restrictions? “I ask for equal treatment,” Russell told me.
The state government has wiped these lawsuits away. “We are being sued practically every day for virtually every action taken during this pandemic and, frankly, I have lost sight of all frivolous lawsuits against us,” said Richard Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo, in October. “We’re moving heaven and earth to contain this virus, and we know some people are unhappy, but New York continues to have one of the lowest infection rates in the nation and is better unhappy than sick or worse.” (The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on this article.)
“Unhappy” doesn’t really capture what these business owners are feeling. Since March, the state has asked them to question their livelihoods for the collective good, with few measures taken to help them economically. Since the passage of the CARES Act in the early days of the crisis, the US Congress has debated additional bailout laws for months. The state and city are in no position to help either, and they are calling on Congress to redress their own budget deficits at the emergency level. I asked Cassara, the owner of the Long Island gym, if he wanted to win in court. “I think some of this isn’t really aimed at Governor Cuomo,” Cassara said. “I think it’s now putting pressure on him to do what he should have done in the past eight months. And that puts pressure on Congress and everyone else to do what is right for New Yorkers and Americans. “