Local Attorney Files Lawsuit Against City For Hosting RNC

Jul 8, 2020

The city of Jacksonville and the Republican National Convention are facing another hurdle apart from COVID-19 - a lawsuit.

Jacksonville Attorney W.C. Gentry filed the suit Wednesday afternoon, citing many reasons why hosting part of the RNC at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena would be a  “nuisance” to the “health and welfare of the community of Jacksonville, Florida.” 

The lawsuit starts out by noting the high number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Florida and Duval County. 

It also states that Jacksonville has withdrawn most of its limitations on public gatherings and social interaction, which has led to a rapid increase in the number of cases. 

“To avoid community spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and welfare of Plaintiffs and the community, it is necessary and essential that all super spreader events where large numbers of people congregate in close proximity indoors not occur,” the suit reads.

It notes that the area around the arena has predominantly African American and homeless communities, who are at a higher risk of contracting the disease. 

The suit lists multiple business owners and residents near the arena who feel as though they are at a higher risk of COVID-19 if the convention happens.

The lawsuit says Florida gives “all citizens the right to bring a direct action to abate and enjoin a nuisance injurious to the health of the citizens in general.”   

In particular, the lawsuit lists the city of Jacksonville, RNC, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. (the president’s campaign), ASM Global Parent, Inc. as the defendants. 

President Trump’s tweets are also mentioned in the lawsuit, particularly one in June where the president states “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s 50 empty” and “We can’t do social distancing.”

“Indeed, Defendant RNC moved the Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina to Jacksonville because the State of North Carolina would not accede to its and Mr. Trump’s demands that they be permitted to pack thousands of persons into the convention facilities, in close proximity and in a closed space in violation of safe COVID-19 health practices,” the suit reads. 

The lawsuit demands that if the event still takes place, it be limited to “no more than 2,500 persons; that at least 12,500 seats of the arena be isolated or roped off, or such number as necessary to provide a seated distance of at least six feet between each person.” 

It also urges that masks and are required and hand sanitizer is given out, constant disinfecting of the surfaces in and around the arena, sufficient signage in and around the arena to promote social distancing and masking measures, police enforcement of safety measures, and protocols to identify anyone who may have or been exposed to COVID-19.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny and his staff have repeatedly said the late August convention is still too far out to determine whether more precautions need to be considered or if it should happen at all in Jacksonville.  

“We are acting appropriately right now and will act appropriately at that time,” Curry said during a Tuesday media conference. “We are currently under a statewide executive order by the Governor. Facilities cannot participate in anything over 50% capacity. That's where we are right now, and so we're just going to continue to evaluate as we move towards that date.” 

A city spokesperson told WJCT News "We received the lawsuit late this afternoon and our legal team is reviewing the documents." 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.