The firm’s latest Miami Herald column was authored by managing partner Oscar R. Rivera and appears in today’s edition of the newspaper. The article, which is titled “Real Estate Counselor: Ruling Finds Health Club On Hook for Lease Payments During COVID Closure,” focuses on the government-mandated COVID-19 business closures at the start of the pandemic in 2020. For LA Fitness and its parent company Fitness International, it equated to months of closed facilities that were generating no revenue but requiring monthly lease payments. Oscar’s article reads:
. . . There was a great deal of conjecture about whether the “force majeure” provisions in leases would shield businesses that were required to close due to governmentally issued mandates from their payment obligations under their leases. These clauses typically relieve parties from the performance of some or all contractual obligations, and from the consequences of failing to perform those obligations, where performance is rendered effectively impossible by circumstances beyond their control. Many thought the COVID closure fit the bill for the application of such provisions to a tee, and litigation would surely ensue.
Lawsuits were indeed filed, and one of the first cases over this exact question to reach conclusion by a state appellate court was decided recently in favor of the landlord for an LA Fitness location in Bradenton. The state’s Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment ruling and found the health club would not be entitled to a refund of its lease payments made during the mandated closure period.
The company made all rent payments required under the lease during the lockdown, which was from March 17 to June 12, 2020, but it eventually filed suit in August 2021 seeking a refund of those payments. It primarily based its claims on the lease’s force majeure clause, arguing that it was excused from paying rent during the closure period, and it also relied upon the common law doctrines of frustration of purpose, impossibility of performance, and impracticability of performance.