Hearing Monday on Ohio water park’s lawsuit to reopen

Kings Island sues to reopen

SANDUSKY, Ohio (FOX19) - A hearing is set for Monday in a Sandusky water park’s lawsuit seeking to immediately reopen.

Kalahari Resorts & Conventions Water Park sued Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton and the Erie County General Health District on Thursday. They challenged Acton’s health order requiring them to stay closed through July 1 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kings Island in Mason, which is owned by Sandusky-based Cedar Fair, also sued Thursday, naming Acton and the Warren County Health District.

On Friday morning, Cedar Fair, which also owns Cedar Point, joined Kings Island’s lawsuit.

Later that day, Gov. Mike DeWine said amusement and water parks, which have been closed all season due to coronavirus, can reopen in two weeks, on June 19.

Meanwhile, the lawsuits remain ongoing and Kalahari’s was assigned to Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Roger Binette.

He set a 1:30 p.m. evidentiary hearing on the water park’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Binette is a former assistant prosecutor and Republican who was first elected in 2004 and makes it a priority to “expeditiously” conduct civil case proceedings, according to his page on the county’s website.

“One of his most recent civil trials resulted in a verdict of over $1 million against an insurance company for acting in Bad Faith,” the website reads.

If the judge grants Kalahari’s request for a temporary restraining order, that could allow the water park to immediately reopen. The lawsuit also asks the judge to rule that Acton doesn’t have the power to shut them down in the future.

The lawsuit alleges Acton’s order has singled out amusement and water parks while other businesses were permitted to operate.

The judge demanded all counsel attend Monday’s hearing in person.

“Failure to appear may result in Court sanctions being imposed, including but not limited to, contempt actions," the court record states.

Attorneys and witnesses for the water park will be there, said one of the attorneys, Chris Finney, in a news release late Friday.

The judge’s order also was sent to lawyers at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

We reached out to Attorney General Dave Yost for comment. He responded Saturday morning: “We will be there. We will present our case in court.”

We put a request for comment into a spokesman for the governor’s office but did not hear back.

It’s not clear if the judge will issue his decision Monday or take more time to consider it and release a written order later this week.

The attorneys representing Kings Island, Cedar Point, and Kalahari including Finney recently successfully sued on behalf of gyms and fitness clubs to reopen.

A Lake County judge issued a preliminary injunction against Acton and the Lake County General Health District that says they violated the constitutional rights of Ohioans by forcing gyms to stay closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kalahari’s resorts are America’s largest indoor water parks with locations in Ohio and other states, according to the lawsuit.

Its Sandusky location has more 850 hotel rooms and 225,000-square-foot water park, among dozens of other amenities, the suit states.

“It directly employs hundreds of Ohioans and indirectly supports local businesses employing hundreds more,” the news release reads.

Kalahari will partially reopen to guests on Friday, June 12, with a full reopening on June 19, the resort said in a news release Friday.

While the waterparks remain closed until June 19, admission to Kalahari’s outdoor pools and the Safari Animal Park will be included with overnight stays prior to that date.

A list of virus precautions is available on their website. Those include masks for workers, but guests are not required to wear them.

“The CDC has advised masks should not be worn in water because they can be difficult to breathe through. As a result, masks are prohibited when you are in the water,” the news release states.

“It is important to reopen the resort as soon as possible to offer families a safe place to come together for summer fun,” said Travis Nelson, spokesperson, Kalahari Resorts and Conventions. “We’re excited to get our associates back to work and restart Ohio’s tourism economy.”

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