Fitness club owner faces jail time for attempting to care for family in defiance of lockdown orders

A fitness club owner who took a stand against Gov. Phil Scott’s economic shutdown is facing a lawsuit from Vermont’s attorney general, and the consequences range from fines to contempt of court, which could land him in jail.

Club Fitness owner Sean Manovill is a husband and a father of two young children. Following Attorney General TJ Donovan’s move to shut down his gym for operating in violation of one of Scott’s executive orders, the dad is uncertain how he will take care of his family.

“Today is a sad day in America. Club Fitness has been sued and fined into submission,” Manovill said in a Facebook video posted Wednesday.

The small fitness club located in Rutland has lost about 80 percent of its revenue since Scott imposed an economic lockdown on Vermonters two months ago.

Sean Manovill

WORKING TO FEED FAMILY PROHIBITED: Sean Manovill and his family are trying to operate their gym business, but the state, under the leadership of Attorney General TJ Donovan, is trying to shut them down.

Manovill tried to reopen his gym on May 1, but the state issued a cease-and-desist order on May 5.

Days later the state threatened a lawsuit, and he closed again based on the understanding that it would be short-term.

“[Donovan] said if you are not going to shut down, it’s against the governor’s orders no matter if we believe it is logical or not,” Manovill said. “They said they were going to file suit the following Monday.”

Manovill said he got a call back from Donovan’s office about an hour later.

“They said, ‘Sean here’s the deal: we don’t want to sue any Vermonters, we don’t want to send anybody to jail. Can you just shut down today and wait until the 15th when the governor’s orders are lifted?'”

The 15th came, but the governor did not open gyms.

“I knew the writing was on the wall,” Manovill said. ” … I knew they were not going to reopen, and we all knew it.”

But Manovill reopened Club Fitness on May 15 and the lawsuit reemerged. The gym has posted a GoFundMe page to gain economic support for legal battles against Donovan, and has raised more than $2,600. Manovill said it could take up to $30,000 in lawyer fees to fight back.

“We have the option to fold and let the lawmakers have their wishes, but by standing up, we have the ability to change the direction for business all across the state,” it states. “The importance of here and now has never meant so much.”

This week Manovill moved his exercise equipment outside in an effort to comply with Scott’s social distancing requirements. But authorities came and surrounded the equipment in yellow caution tape and ordered him to take it back inside. In a statement, Donovan said moving the equipment outside was “unacceptable.”

Manovill warned on Facebook about the severity of the charges against him.

“The state has threatened contempt of court, and contempt of court can carry jail time. And I cannot do that to my wife and two young children. Through all of this, the lawsuit remains and the fees are intact. The state of Vermont has taken the rights of free people to make us comply with their agenda.”

Manovill told True North he thinks the state is attempting to turn public sentiment against him, but it isn’t working.

“The idea is to shame me publicly. Well, we’ve gotten more support than shame, actually,” he said.

“It’s almost like, ‘You are trying to do this for selfish reasons to make more money.’ Let me be honest: opening this gym and having less than 10 people for the whole entire day come into the gym is definitely not making me any money. It’s costing me money.”

Two officers visited the gym on May 15, Manovill recounted, and one of them wrote a report citing alleged safety violations, such as not using social distancing or hand sanitizer. Manovill says the report is not accurate and that the gym implements rigid health safety protocols.

Furthermore, he says that the point of reopening is to protest the excessive lockdown measures: “There are no mandates for us because we’re not supposed to be open anyway.”

Manovill says he tried to reach Donovan on the 15th but received no response.

Donovan did not respond to True North’s request for comment.

Americans across the country are beginning to file lawsuits and organize mass civil disobedience against stay-home orders.

On Wednesday, Michigan barbers and hair stylists turned the state Capitol into a salon to cut hair in a protest dubbed “Operation Haircut.” A county judge in the state ruled Thursday that an Owosso barbershop did not have to close for operating in violation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home orders.

In California, 1,200 pastors have agreed to reopen churches on May 31 in violation of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Stay-At-Home order.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Sean Manovill

26 thoughts on “Fitness club owner faces jail time for attempting to care for family in defiance of lockdown orders

  1. My gym reopened about a month ago. They check our temperature when we come in and really keep the facilities clean. No known problems.

  2. Mr. Manovill I refer you to my remarks above concerning Ms. Jones and her sporting goods stores. You can’t support you family from an ICU or worse.

    • What percentage of COVID-19 cases end up in the ICU? You should include some facts in your statement if you intend to change someone behavior from a post.

      You statement could also be directed at:

      Getting on a plane
      Getting in a Car
      Going outside in a Thunderstorm
      Walking a dog near a fresh water pond in FL
      Lighting fireworks off

  3. It is even more imperative that we openly rebel against this tyranny. For all who want to reopen their businesses but don’t have Scott’s approval, I recommend first picking a date to open. Then, contact customers & friends, inform them of your intentions and the date, and ask them to show up in support for the entire day. All should come armed, everyone who possesses a weapon. Turn away all government personnel who show their faces. Refuse to pay any and all fines levied against you.

    There will soon be a point where government will have to back down or face the wrath of the people.

    • Exactly what I thought last night. Bring cameras too and pound any LE supporting this criminal conduct by the State. Write to the Governor and Donovan – don’t allow them to harass Sean Manovill any longer.

  4. This situation also goes to show how our justice system is corrupt. The cost of trying to defend ourselves from unconstitutional clubs being wielded by government against us is abominable. It should be required that it be a jury trial and if the state looses they pay all costs. Any law passed by the legislature should first go to a court to determine if the so called law (or executive order) is in fact constitutional. This should not be done only after someone is affected by it and they must bear the burden of the cost to do so. If any one thinks that judges are unbiased considering their employer is the state, they need to have their head examined. I am beginning to feel like Thomas Payne must have felt when writing Common sense. I do know I am not that smart.

    • Our first Constitution established a Council of Censors that did what you suggest. Unfortunately, they disbanded when VT established a Senate, as they considered that would be a cautious check on the House. That was well before the courts handed control of the Senate to the more populous counties.

  5. Gyms save people and help their overall health, they should be considered more necessary than fast food chains that help put way more people in the ground than COVID ever will. The hypocrisy of this situation is insane. Alcohol, cheeseburgers, and cigarettes are readily available but screw you if you try and open your business to help people’s physical and mental health. Anybody that is against Sean opening his gym is a complete moron! Come on down to Georgia and open up Sean, we will accept you with open arms!

  6. So, it has finally happened. Vermont has become a ghost of it’s former self and has been replaced by a tyrannical anti-Constitutional Socialist state. When citizens are attacked by the state for trying to provide a living for their families it is time to step up and defy their authority. I support Sean 100%. I have sent a donation to his legal fund and soon the state will see how much the public supports him.

  7. So are people finally going to wake up about the Government in Vermont,
    we thought we voted in a conservative republican…….Nope !!

    Phil Scott has been a disappointment and with this ” new low ” locking down
    the state ” unconstitutional ” choosing and picking who and what can open, that
    sounds like progressives are leading this charge and his little Gestapo chief “TJ”
    trying to show he’s relevant and can play in the big league by threatening this
    Vermont Families lively hood……….. pretty pathetic.

  8. The hideousness of this Progressive tyranny cannot be exaggerated. And its nothing new.

    The Progressive Era of judicial review is a well-documented phenomenon in the annals of American history. Beginning with Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, the SCOTUS upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. A judicial embarrassment to this day.

    In 1905, the SCOTUS considered Jacobson v Massachusetts: which raised questions about the power of state government to protect the public’s health and the Constitution’s protection of personal liberty. At the time, the SCOTUS considered whether the safety of the public justified a required small pox vaccination and whether it was enforceable by reasonable regulations. The Court, in what turns out to be yet another embarrassment, answered yes to both questions.

    Today, the Progressives, who support so-called ‘restraints…enforced by reasonable regulation’ over the ‘supremacy of individual will’, characterize those who dispute the regulations as ‘deplorables’ and ‘QAnon’ far right conspiracy theorists. What many of us have forgotten is that these ad hominem attacks are right out of the Progressive playbook from the turn of the 20th century.

    Consider what happened in Jacobson v Massachusetts, in which small pox vaccinations were required by the State in the name of public health. The federal government had comparatively little involvement in health matters at that time. The SCOTUS upheld the State’s authority only because the Federal courts had never, previously, asserted jurisdiction on the subject… an omission that would prove to be regretful yet again in 1927 when, in Buck v. Bell, the SCOTUS upheld a Virginia law that authorized the involuntary sterilization of “feeble minded” persons in state institutions, citing Jacobson v Massachusetts. Even the lawyers defending Nazi war criminals at the Nuremburg Trials cited the Buck v. Bell decision to justify actions in the notorious WWII concentration camps. And, it was unfortunate, indeed, that forced sterilization continued in the U.S. until the 1960s.

    So, here we are again, with our individual freedom and liberty on the line. Supporters of individual freedoms are being characterized by Progressives as ‘deplorables’ and conspiracy theorists, if not the ‘imbecils’ characterized in Buck v. Bell.

    Again, the hideousness of this Progressive tyranny cannot be exaggerated. It’s nothing new, and it must be resisted.

    • I agree. Jacobson v Massachusetts could not have envisioned the abuses of decency and fairness brought on by the eugenicist-packed court that blessed forced sterilization in 1927 and that served as part of the justification for the abuses of the Third Reich: it was all for the greater good (of the state.)

      I disagree, however, with the notion that tyranny is coming from the left. Tyranny is an equal-opportunity abuser, and has come from the right just as surely as it has come from the left. My own take on this is that this tyranny we’re facing today transcends party affiliation, and in fact uses that division to further its aims.

      Sorry times. We’re living in a police state and this is just a taste of what’s to come, unless we stand up and say “no, we’d rather die, thanks anyhow.”

      • While I think I understand your point, I didn’t say this tyranny came from ‘the left’. I said its a ‘Progressive’ notion and, at the turn of the century, included Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrats William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson and Al Smith. They were academic elitists, for the most part, ultimately exposed by by George Orwell’s Animal Farm (“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”) and his 1984 (“Who controls the past controls the future.”)

        The point was described well enough by one of the Framers, Samuel Adams.

        “How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words! If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

        • What you brings into perspective what and how big this situation we find ourselves in truly is.

          The nuance you speak of with, progressive is well taken and insightful.

          Vermont just happens to be a size that is easily run over and controlled. The other side of that coin is we should also be easily defensible and could be the tip of a better spear than the current progressive spear head we’ve become.

          The problems we face are acros the country. If we get the right mix, we can be a spear head of a much better cause, who knows perhaps we could be a leader of that instead,

        • My understanding of the Progressive movement may be flawed. I associate it with work to eliminate abuses of power– such as child labor– and the fight against slums and unsanitary conditions in the cities, and these were, in my opinion, good things. I also associate this movement with being left of center.

          In any case, government overreach should be guarded against no matter which side of the political spectrum one supports.

          I agree with Samuel Adams 100%.

          • You make Sam Adams’ case in point:

            Of course, we all want “to eliminate abuses of power– such as child labor– and the fight against slums and unsanitary conditions in the cities”. But what goes unsaid is the best method for doing so.

            The difference between ‘Progressives’ and ‘The Left’ is that the former believes the average person incapable of self-governance while the later demonstrates the accuracy of that belief.

            Progressives are elitists and include both Democrats and Republicans.

            The ‘Left’ are socialists…. ‘the creed of igno¬rance, the gospel of envy, its inher¬ent virtue being the equal shar¬ing of misery.’ And modern history is replete with the raising of its ugly head.

            But more than that, Socialism is the governance of lazy cowards. Centralized control is a ploy by those who envy individual success and the wealth it creates but who are unwilling to accept the risk and responsibilities that create that wealth in the first place. Our current bloated and overpaid government bureaucracy, Federal, State and Local, is a case in point.

            ‘From each according to his ability to each according to his need’ is their credo. But hidden by this wolf in sheep’s clothing is that one’s ‘ability’ and ‘need’ are defined by the government bureaucracy… explaining why it has become bloated and overpaid.

            Most on the ’Right’, on the other hand, rarely, if ever, promote Socialism. But some on the ‘Right’ do, however, espouse Progressivism.

  9. Communist T.J. Donovan has got to go. Vote him out or hang him for Treason makes no difference to me…

  10. I notice you’re not wearing the required brown shirt either!

    Sent money to your gofund account. Good luck…God Speed. Sorry you have to deal with such misguided people.

    • The head line could have just as well read “fitness center operator facing jail time for unnecessarily exposing people to the virus”. Wasn’t used because the other headline was much more appealing to the managing editor. Fake news strikes agaiin.

      • You have yet to prove how this man or his customers have exposed anyone to a life-threatening disease. But don’t bother. The statistics and information published by media outlets other than the mainstream have already identified YOU as fake news.

      • Mike— Seriously do you believe the virus is not in a supermarket, tattoo parlor. under you bed? What nightmare have you put into your head? This is a new health problem. But this state gov’t and others have overstepped any authority to order it’s population to comply. Scott has no reason to hunt and peck at business. Look- over 600,000 people here and 50+ deaths. How many total deaths have there been? Read the obits. Try as you might, you are being pushed onto fear and shaming and a sense of right that is crazy. Are the hospitals overrun? Look- the USA has had building problems with health care the have been exposed due to Covid’s arrival.
        Healthy residents have the right to move about . Three months and this keeps getting pushed out further. And the ‘data’ remains steady- so- time to breathe open air.

      • Nurturing your inner brownshirt as our fellow Vermonters have their businesses siezed – wow just wow – how pathetic.

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