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Golfland Sunsplash waterpark owners sue Arizona Governor

The owners of an Arizona water park, Golfland Sunspash, are suing Governor Doug Ducey for preventing the park to reopen after a Covid-19 shutdown.

On August 11, 2020, Sunsplash filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County against the Governor, alleging he acted with discriminatory intent and in violation of the state constitution by requiring it to remain closed while allowing virtually identical operations at resorts to reopen.

All water parks and public pools were closed by the Governor in March, 2020, due to the spread of Covid-19. The parks and pools were allowed to reopen in May if they followed certain guidelines. In late June, a spike of new Covid-19 cases caused the Governor to reverse course and he closed many businesses again, including water parks like Sunsplash.

This new order did not apply to pools operated as part of a public accommodation, such as hotels and resorts.

For example, the Great Wolf Lodge, a hotel that features a large indoor water park with multiple water rides and a lazy river, was allowed to remain open. According to the Governor, hotels and resorts only had to manage their own guests and could therefore control the crowds.

But the Great Wolf Lodge, and resorts like it, also sell day passes and half-day passes to the public. This includes access to all water rides and the lazy river. These resorts were allowed to remain operational all summer.

Sunsplash, however, was closed on June 29, following a period of significant case spikes. Water parks like Sunsplash were ordered to stay closed until July 27. Thereafter, the Governor revoked any commitment that would have allowed water parks to reopen after the order expired.

Sunsplash’s General Manager, Stephen Carlston, contends that prior to closing again on June 29, the park followed all guidelines as set forth in the Governor’s policies .

“We have been forced to close down, while other water parks in the Valley have remained open. Regardless [whether] they are attached to a hotel, they are waterparks and [neither] the Governor nor anyone else has done anything else to shut them down.”

Furthermore, the park sold season passes, and due to their summer closure, will be forced to make refunds .

In response to the lawsuit, officials with the Governor’s Office issued a statement that reads, in part: “We’re following the law and the constitution. Earlier this week, the Department of Health Services released public health recommendations to guide the eventual safe reopening of paused businesses in Arizona.”

Joel Sannes, the attorney for Sunsplash, says the disparity between waterparks at resorts remaining open while forcing the closure of free-standing water parks is illegal.

“It looks to us like the Governor’s picked winners and losers,’’ Sannes said.

Sunsplash is seeking an order declaring the Governor’s policy unconstitutional discrimination.

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