Supreme Court Grants Realtors’ and Landlords’ Petition for Relief from Stay of Judgment Vacating CDC Eviction Moratorium as Unconstitutional

Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 21A23. Order granting emergency petition for relief from stay issued August 26, 2021.

The Supreme Court has lifted the stay of the United States District Court’s judgment vacating the Center for Disease Control order imposing a nationwide mortatorium on evictions. 

It is not only rare that the Supreme Court would reach down to a trial court to vacate that court’s order during the pendency of appellate litigation, it is even more rare that the Court would so forcefully tip its hand concerning the likely outcome should the merits of the litigation be reached:   The CDC’s exercise of power in issuing the eviction moratorium was so far outside its authority that, with respect to the likelihood of success of the realtors’ and landlords’ challenge, “it is difficult to imagine them losing.”  (Per Curiam opinion, p.5).  

Should a nationwide eviction moratorium remain desirable, Congress must specifically authorize such a measure. 

Three justices dissented, citing changed conditions supporting the issuance of a new eviction moratorium and finding that the statute granting the CDC powers to act to control communicable disease support the eviction moratorium orders.

21A23 Alabama Assn. of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Servs. (08_26_21)

 

 

Having Twice Failed to Uproot the Stay that Keeps the CDC Eviction Moratorium in Place, Realtors Association Again Seeks Emergency Relief in the U.S. Supreme Court

Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 21A23.  Application to vacate stay submitted on August 20, 2021.  Government to respond by noon on August 23, 2021.


Applicants Alabama Association of Realtors have filed in the United States Supreme Court an application for emergency relief which would vacate the U.S. District Court’s May 14, 2021 stay of its May 5th order vacating the Center for Disease Control (CDC) moratorium on evictions.

The emergency application was submitted the same day that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied relief from the stay for the second time.

Applicants argue that not only has the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found the CDC eviction moratoria to be unconstitutional, but also that the executive branch has admitted this to be true, but has nonetheless encouraged litigation as a delay tactic in the hope of distributing billions in rental assistance monies through the states.  

When the initial series of eviction orders lapsed on July 31, 2021, Congress failed to specifically authorize the CDC to exercise the power that it has, which legislative action Associate Justice Kavanaugh opined would be needed going forward when he denied review only because the government promised the Court that the eviction orders would end on July 31, 2021.  As this was clearly not the case, relief is now warranted, the applicants submit.

Permitting the stay to remain in place would undermine confidence in the federal government internally and in the eyes of the nation, as it would allow legislative inaction to promote admittedly unconstitutional administrative action and let the Court know its views are of no consequence.

The ongoing presence of a federal moratorium represents both an assault on the integrity of the system of government itself but also a tectonic shift in the exercise of powers affecting the rights and interests of property owners.  The eviction moratorium has been promulgated by a sovereign which is immune from suit and which will resist takings actions, provides benefits to those who are admittedly judgement-proof, and criminalizes landlords’ actions to protect their property through eviction proceedings.  Any financial benefit, in the form of rental assistance, has been lost in bogs of state bureaucracies charged with distributing the funds.

The realtors association argues that the same factors that warranted emergency relief that were present before are present now and then some.  Any reliance on ‘changed conditions’ manifested by the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus is misplaced, as the government was aware of the Delta variant when it permitted the CDC order to lapse on July 31, 2021, and the harms predicted from the variant have failed to materialize.

The applicants note that the idea that money damages will make landlords whole is not supported in law or fact.  The Administrative Procedures Act does not permit an award of money damages, and the costs of compliance with an unlawful regulatory regimen are incapable of being fairly compensated. 

 

Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. HHS, No. 21A23 Application for Emergency Relief August 20, 2021

New CDC Eviction Moratorium Is Defective, But Federal District Court Cannot Vacate Its Earlier Stay Where the Order of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Upholding that Stay Is the Law of the Case

Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 20-0377-DLF.  Opinion and Order issued August 13, 2021.


The federal district court in the District of Columbia has compared the August 3, 2021 Order of the Centers for Disease Control imposing a nationwide stay of evictions until October 31, 2021 and found it to be not materially different from the order preceding it, which has been found to be, and has been admitted to be, constitutionally defective.  

Were it possible to do so, the federal district court said today, the court would enter an order similar to the order of vacatur issued previously.  The court cannot do so, however, because the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused to disturb the district court’s earlier stay of its order of vacatur.  The appellate court’s refusal to grant relief, which left the district court’s stay of its order of vacatur in place, is the law of the case which the district court may not now ignore. 

The appellate court and the district court were not of the same analytical minds with respect to the initial stay, but this is of no moment at this time.  Plaintiffs’ recourse is in the appellate court or in the United States Supreme Court.  

There is Need for a Meta Crystal Ball.  It is not known at this time whether the plaintiffs will once again seek relief in the United States Supreme Court prior to seeking relief or continuing its current appeal in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Although the United States Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ earlier petition, Justice Kavanaugh opined that he would have agreed with the justices who would have granted relief but for the imminent expiration of the first Centers for Disease Control Order.   While plaintiffs in this case asserted that Justice Kavanaugh’s opinion in essence created a majority that would grant relief, the United States argued the concurrence in denying relief could not be transformed into one granting relief, as plaintits wished, a position with which the district court has agreed.  As the other justices’ votes are known publicly, but their analyses and opinions are not, assessment of a likely outcome if relief were sought first in the Supreme Court will no doubt provoke much discusson. 

JustLawful Observation: Whether in the present posture of the case plaintiffs will renew their request for relief in the United States Supreme Court rather than in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is, of course,  a matter of speculation.  While much of today’s ruling may have too much of a “yes-but-no” flavor, and seem to rely on jurisprudential concepts pleasing to judges and lawyers but confounding to the public, there may be some comfort in considering that it is likely that not too much time will pass before the next round of litigation begins.  

Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. HHS, No. 20-0377Memorandum Opinion and Order dated August 13, 2021

Nixxing Ipse Dixit: U.S. Supreme Court Finds New York’s Covid-Related Tenant Financial Hardship Self-Certification Provisions Deny Landlords Due Process

Chrysafis, et al., v. Marks, No. 21A8.  Order granting injunctive relief pending disposition in Second Circuit or of Petition for Certiorari entered August 12, 2021.  


New York’s pandemic related tenant protections preclude eviction if a tenant self-certifies to financial hardship.  Landlords may not challenge such self-certifications.  This, the U.S. Supreme Court has concluded, impairs landlords’ due process interests, as established law has observed that “no man may be a judge in his own case.”  Order of August 12, 2021, citing In re Murchison, 349 U. S. 133, 136 (1952).  

By order entered August 12, 2021,  the Court has enjoined the preclusive effect of tenant self-certifications pending further judicial activity but has left undisturbed the capacity of courts to make assessments of financial hardship in eviction proceedings.  Such assessments could permit receipt of pandemic-related financial aid and could preclude eviction.

Justice Breyer, with Justices Sotomayor and  Kagan,  has dissented, opining that there is no basis in the law for the U.S. Supreme Court to reach the constitutionality of a state law measure which has not been enjoined by a state court, where there has been no determination in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where the emergency eviction measures will lapse of their own accord at the end of August, where there is available $2 billion dollars in federal rental assistance, and where landlords are not denied, but only delayed, a hearing, a circumstance which does not violate constitutional due process principles.  

Justice Breyer’s dissent notes that there is no First Amendment compelled speech issue presented by the state’s requirement that factual information be provided to tenants. 

While it is recognized that emergency measures are not wholly insulated from judicial review, it is Justice Breyer’s sense that in this circumstance, where any right to relief is not clearly established, where tenants may face displacement earlier than anticipated, and where the state must craft and administer many scientifically and medically complex emergency measures, the public interest would favor deference to the state.  

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision has been presented to the federal court in the District of Columbia for consideration in connection with the court’s anticipated ruling on a challenge to the new federal eviction moratorium.

U.S. Supreme Court docket showing entry of order:

21A8 U.S. Supreme Court Docket

Order entered August 12, 2021

CHRYSAFIS . v. MARKS, U.S. Suprerme Court Order with Dissent August 12 2021

Submission to U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

Alabama Association of Realtors v. HHS, 20-03377, Notice of Supplemental Authority

Alabama Association of Realtors v. HHS, 20-03377, Exhbit A.

20% Off Is Still 100% Unconstitutional: Realtors Argue that Novel Iteration of CDC Eviction Moratorium Is as Lacking in Authority as its Precursor

Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 20-cv-03377 (D. D.C.). 


Emergency!  Last spring plaintiff realtors and related organizations were successful in persuading the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the September, 2020, Order of the Centers for Disease Control imposing a national moratorium on evictions was without authority.  The court found no authority for such a sweeping measure in the public health law that served as the order’s premise, nor could the court find any legislative delegation of authority that would permit the Centers for Disease Control to criminalize rental property evictions. 

The D.C. District Court vacated, yet stayed, its order pending review.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused to disturb the federal district court’s determinations, and the United States Supreme Court denied emergency review.

The denial of review, however, came with Justice Kavanaugh’s concurring caveat: he agreed that the eviction moratorium order was unconstitutional but sensed that it was best to let the order lapse of its own accord at the end of July, as the Centers for Disease Control represented to the Supreme Court that the moratorium would not be extended further. 

Post-Moratorium Hubbub in the Executive and Legislative Branches.  The President of the United States stated publicly that he had been advised that the eviction moratorium was unconstitutional. A valid moratorium would require, as Justice Kavanaugh pointed out, legislative authority, which Congress failed to enact. 

The President begged the states to disburse the $45,000,000,000 that the federal government had provided in assistance to troubled tenants but which appears to have been bogged down in bureaucracies.  

This Time It’s Different.  On August 3, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control issued a new order prohibiting evictions in areas deemed to be highly affected by a variant of the contagious Covid-19 virus that prompted the initial moratorium.  This “Delta” variant, the Centers for Disease Control has predicted, is highly contagious and its threat to interstate transmission justifies federal intervention on a limited basis, which the Centers for Disease Control now sets at about 80% of all counties nationally or 90% of all rental housing in the United States.

Lack of Constitutional Authorization Remains. Plaintiffs argue that the fundamental lack of authorization for the Centers for Disease Control’s new order persists: no geographic or statistical tinkering can imbue the order with the constitutional soundness it lacks.  

It’s Not the Principle of the Thing, It’s the Money. That the Executive Branch is in accord with the view that the prior order was unconstitutional  makes the new order all the more curious except that the President has stated that he hopes that litigation will buy some time to move relief to intended recipients.  

Fuzzy Math.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, of which the Centers for Disease Control is a component, has opposed emergency relief now because, the government argues, the plaintiffs’ assertion that the precedent it finds in Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence is not precedent at all.  The government argues that a concurrence that can be seen as aligned with those who would have granted relief cannot transform the minority of judges who would have granted review into a majority.  

As Then, So Too Now.  Defendants argue that as there is no Supreme Court precedent binding the district court the law requires that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion on the stay controls.  The district court should not disturb its earlier stay, the government argues, but the court must recognize that its earlier vacatur of the first CDC order is of no moment, either, as circumstances have so changed that the court’s initial conclusions would not apply now.  

Deference, Please. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control submit that the district court should abstain from any action to permit the Solicitor General of the United States to determine whether to seek emergency review in the D.C. Court of Appeals or the United States Supreme Court.

There May Be More to Come. The plaintiffs may file a reply to the government’s opposition by August 6, but at this time none is of record.

Centers for Disease Control Order Dated August 3, 2021:

CDC Eviction Order

Realtors’ Emergency Motion:

Emergency Motion to Enforce the Supreme Court’s RulingyDefendants’ Opposition

Defendants’ Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Emergency Motion

Order of U.S. Supreme Court Denying Review of Eviction Moratorium

Order Denying Application to Vacate Stay June 29, 2021