Last week, the New York State Liquor Authority announced a rule that food service establishments licensed to sell alcohol could no longer advertise any music offered during the dining experience, in a rule absurd enough to surely have been drafted by Governor Andrew Cuomo himself. This rule, which also bans tickets or admission charges to food service establishments, is a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of the state’s liquor licensees.
By and large, the food service industry has done its best to comply with each and every rule and request of the Governor and his agencies in order to provide a safe environment for the public. However, the industry has received no financial support from the state, and the cost of complying with rules that change on a near daily basis is destroying the industry. It is predicted that 1 in 3 food service establishments in the state will never reopen as a result. When all establishments are requiring seated table service, limited capacities, and social distancing, announcing the music selection or having a cover charge simply does not contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
I’m pleased to note that I now represent the New York Independent Venue Association and 9 of its members across the state in taking the New York State Liquor Authority to court over the matter. Case No. 20-CV-6870 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a “prospective client” in the U.K. requesting help with a straight-forward contract matter. Contract litigation isn’t exactly why I went to law school, but something I do help out with from time to time…
(Identifying information redacted because I’m fairly sure the scammer stole the identity of an innocent person and company.)
We discuss more — both phone and e-mail — and he sends me a signed contract and invoices indicating that he was owed $150K for architecture services: CAD drawings of a residential home. No problem, I’m a California lawyer, you want to sue a California client for breach of contract, you have a signed writing, and if they can afford $150K just for architecture on their residence, they probably have some cash to collect. Good deal.
I send over a retainer agreement and he promptly returns it signed. Now all I need is the retainer deposit and — oh, wait, an e-mail indicating that the other side wants to settle the matter and I should hold on! Several days later, I receive a cashier’s check and a note from my client saying that they resolved it and he just needs me to deposit the check, take my fees out of it, and send me the money.
For the uninitiated, this is a variation of a classic check scam: someone purchases any kind of goods or services and overpays you in some way “by accident.” But, no problem, just deposit the check, send them what they ordered, and whatever the extra is, just wire it back to them! Of course, the check is a forgery and because American banks are still in many ways stuck in the 20th century, it often takes them several days to let you know, “hey asshole, you got robbed!” In the meantime, you’ve sent their order and a whole bunch of cash that you now owe the bank, and they’ve disappeared never to be seen again.
This would have cost my clients nearly $100,000 (as the check would be deposited into, and the soon-to-be-reversed proceeds wired from, my client trust account), which I’m quite sure the State Bar would expect me to repay out of my own funds. Your insurance may not cover this (the banks sure won’t — it was you who initiated the wire, right?). Spotting the scam early, I insisted that the “client” pay the retainer deposit first rather than take it out of the cashier’s check, which after a bit of arguing caused the “client” to take his business elsewhere.
Be wise, business owners… there are people trying to take advantage of you everywhere and they don’t care if you’re ruined as a result. In the law world, having a solid retainer agreement, requiring a deposit before beginning any legal services, and being suspicious of irrational client requests — like being “paid” to move $100K for an agreement I didn’t even negotiate — saves the day. And of course, make sure any check actually clears (not just becomes temporarily available, but call the bank and confirm they have the funds from the sender’s bank) before wiring money away.
As I considered re-instatement of my lawsuit against the travel quarantine, voluntarily dismissed because of Cuomo’s failure to enforce, I noticed something new in the Health Department’s order: anyone who can demonstrate that they shouldn’t need to be quarantined can request a hearing.
Well, isn’t that fancy? I, for one, am going to take him up on it, and I encourage everyone who might possibly travel to New York to do the same. So here’s a quick sample of what a hearing request might look like*:
* This form is a sample document preparation. It is not legal advice; legal advice can only be provided by a licensed attorney who has reviewed your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is created by your downloading or use of these documents. Please do not e-mail me questions about use of this form; I would only be able to respond if and when I agree to be retained to assist with your case.
At the end of last month, I had asked a federal court to issue a temporary restraining order against Cuomo’s enforcement of the 14-day travel quarantine currently in effect on those coming to New York from 19 different states, on the simple premise that you can’t protect an area that is already broadly infected (as the entire state of New York is) by use of a quarantine. A judge refused to issue the order last week, ruling that while the quarantine burdened my right to travel, it was my job to overcome the government’s showing that they had “considered” other options and felt the quarantine was necessary. In their opposition to my motion, New York presented not a single model, not a single health organization’s (or even a single doctor’s) opinion that a quarantine is necessary in this situation, and not even a prediction of how many cases this would likely prevent. It seems to me that when the government wants to take our liberty, it should be their job to demonstrate the need to do so, but motions for temporary restraining orders are quite discretionary and unappealable. That said, the case was free to continue without the temporary relief — although by the time it would be decided, the quarantine would very likely be over.
I’ve decided not to continue this court fight for that reason and because it seems clear to me that the Governor has no intent to actually enforce this quarantine. To that point, first, last night I flew LAX to JFK, which means I was directly incoming from a state that Cuomo announced had coronavirus statistics that were so high that incoming travelers must self-quarantine for 14 days. However, no attempt was made to compel the production of any data that would allow the enforcement of the quarantine: although the government had produced a poorly-designed form to collect information, no one was even trying to force travelers to fill it out…
There was merely a table by the baggage claim, with a Health Department employee sitting on his laptop paying no attention, offering the form up to travelers. No person sought to inform travelers to fill out the form, and there were not even ropes to guide travelers past the kiosk. While a handful of travelers stopped and fellated the Governor’s ego, the remainder either didn’t see it or, like me, saw it and walked right past.
Second, in the days after the quarantine was announced, the state made clear that “essential workers” are exempt from the quarantine. That is, if you work for any essential business, you’re free to go on vacation to Miami, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Rome, or Wuhan, China, and then come back to work without the need to quarantine. This means if you are a waitress, a bartender, a dog walker, a janitor, a gas station attendant, a mechanic, a bank teller, a federal government employee, a transportation employee, work in a medical field, or one of several dozen other jobs, you’re exempt. By my calculation, this is more than half of the workforce that is exempt. And if you’re not yet exempt, find someone in New York that will let you walk their dog and you will be.
I’ve not changed my mind that the Governor’s quarantine is wrong and unconstitutional. But given that it seems to be mere bloviation from Cuomo with no teeth at all, it is not worth spending 40 – 100 hours over the next 18+ months fighting. So today I file a notice of voluntary dismissal. Such dismissals are “without prejudice,” meaning I can bring the case back later if I’d like, and I’ll keep an eye on the situation. That said, if anyone is actually fined or detained because of the quarantine, I would be most eager to speak with them about their case.
On June 24th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine, under penalty of forcible quarantine and large fines, for anyone entering the state from any of 9 “coronavirus hotspot” states. As you cannot protect a population that is already broadly infected by “quarantine,” I immediately filed suit against this irrational and unconstitutional restriction on our right to travel between the states.
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 2 PM on my motion for an emergency temporary restraining order in front of U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in the Southern District of New York. But in the meantime, the Governor has doubled-down by expanding his list to a total of 16 states:
This list, including the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd most populated states, includes about half the population of the country.
I look forward to seeing Cuomo’s people in court on Thursday. In the meantime, I’ve filed an amended complaint adding details and challenging the allegedly mandatory form that travelers must fill out when crossing the border (see Exhibit B for that one)…
This morning, I filed suit against New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in regards to the “quarantine” he and two neighboring governors announced yesterday. This particular quarantine requires anyone incoming to the state who has been to states that the governors find have unacceptably high rates of coronavirus to self-quarantine for 14 days. Failure to self-quarantine results in forcible quarantine and a massive bill.
New York, perhaps because of the population density of New York City and its reliance on public transportation, was hit almost first and by far the hardest of the states by the coronavirus pandemic. Since April 7th, however, the state has seen a steady and consistent decline from 799 deaths in a day to 27 a couple days ago. That said, there are still about 600 new infections confirmed in the state daily, and the best numbers I can crunch suggest that tens of thousands of New Yorkers currently have an active coronavirus infection, whether diagnosed or not.
In this context, it is shocking to me that anyone would propose a quarantine to keep the virus out of New York. If anything, there are probably places that should be quarantining us (and, many countries are indeed not accepting American tourists right now). The cat is out of the bag, and coronavirus, although substantially reduced from the peak, can be found in every village, town, and city in the state. An infected traveler from out-of-state simply cannot affect the statistics when we have tens of thousands of people in the state already who are currently shedding the virus.
This reeks of a political stunt. Whether it’s retribution for other states imposing travel restrictions on New Yorkers, or a middle finger to Trump for encouraging states to re-open, or an attempt to appear “tough on corona” to voters, I don’t know and don’t care. What is clear is that this step cannot deliver any public health benefit, but will certainly cause substantial interference with our constitutional right to travel.
“We have a constitutional right to travel?” Indeed. Like the right to an abortion or to get married, the right to travel appears in the U.S. Constitution not in explicit words but in the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Due process involves not only the right to a trial and so forth (“procedural due process”) but also a right to be free from infringements on our liberty absent a good reason (“substantive due process”). The standard for whether a public health concern is a good enough reason comes from over 100 years ago when a state made smallpox vaccination mandatory and ended up on the receiving end of a lawsuit. That case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11
(1905), required a “real or substantial relation” between the health concern and the government’s restriction. “Real or substantial” is more than just rational, or plausible, but rather courts have required the government to actually explain how A leads to B, and often to consider less invasive means. (Speaking of, there are obvious alternatives: for example, allowing people to escape quarantine by getting tested, or simply checking body temperature of people flying in.)
My lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, comes along with a motion for an emergency temporary restraining order. I shall leave you with the conclusion:
The Governor is free to come before the Court at any time with evidence to show that the challenged order is actually necessary to protect the public health. After all, the state should already be in possession of such evidence before issuing an order as drastic as the one challenged. If and when such evidence is provided, the Court may immediately lift the TRO. Until that time, the government should be ordered to “PAUSE” itself.
Is this motion likely to be successful? Well, I fight the hard cases, and this is a fight worth fighting. We’ll leave it to the Court to determine whether the fight wins the day.
Case is Jonathan Corbett v. Andrew M. Cuomo, 20-CV-4864 (S.D.N.Y.).
This is the thirteenth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed), Part V (appellate briefing complete), Part VI (N.Y. Appeals Court Not Interested in Ending NYPD Corruption), Part VII (Corruption? You Can’t Prove It!), Part VIII (appeal to N.Y. high court), Part IX (N.Y. Court of Appeals won’t hear), Part X (Federal Lawsuit Filed), Part XI (Federal Court Refuses Challenge), Part XII (U.S. Court of Appeals).
Total Time Spent So Far: 79 hours
Total Money Spent So Far: $2,296
In July last year, I filed a notice of appeal of the U.S. District Court’s decision that New York City’s gun licensing scheme was constitutionally sound. Federal court appeals are heard by the appellant filing a brief, the appellee filing an opposing brief, and the appellant gets an opportunity to file a reply brief. Often, but not always, oral arguments are heard, wherein the parties get a short period of time (typically, 5 – 15 minutes each) to persuade the judges hearing the case and to answer their questions.
Oral arguments were ordered in this case and heard on June 3rd, 2020. Getting the Second Circuit to overturn longstanding precedent regarding New York gun laws was always a long shot, so I prepared for a somewhat hostile reception. The judges randomly assigned, however, were two Trump appointees and 1 Bush 43 appointee — a favorable selection for a gun rights case. Because of coronavirus, the arguments were telephonic, and a recording is available from the court (.mp3).
Alas, despite the favorable panel selection, the judges apparently had made up their mind before hearing arguments, as they put out a 5-page opinion the next day (.pdf) affirming the judgment of the court below. The judges did not reach the merits of the case (the constitutional issue). Instead, they agreed with the city that because of the way I presented my case in state court, I could not challenge again in federal court.
Let me try to explain. Some cases can be heard in both state and federal court — gun issues are one of them. However, if your case is heard in state court, it generally can only be heard in federal court if the state court doesn’t provide the same type of remedy (in the legal world, we describe this issue using the Latin phrase “res judicata“). Gun license challenges in New York courts (called “Article 78” proceedings) typically only come with the remedy of ordering the issuance of the license or a new administrative hearing, while in federal court I can ask for money for the infringement of my rights. So, I should have been good. The problem is that when I asked for the review of my gun license issue in state court, I also asked them to review their refusal to provide me with records I requested. The federal court held that this type of case allows for money damages also. In other words, if I had filed 2 separate cases — one challenging the gun license denial and the other challenging the records refusal — my case could be re-reviewed in federal court, but since I did both at once, no dice.
As far as I can tell, this is the first case in which such a distinction has been made, and in my opinion creates an unjust result: there should be no penalty for saving the courts time by asking them to hear two matters at once. Needless to say, it leaves my court battle over my 2015 gun license application dead, as although I can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is highly unlikely that they have interest in hearing such a case.
But, the fight is not over. Stay tuned for Part XIV over the next month or two, in which we explore the contours of New York’s “proper cause” requirement. 🙂
Jamii Erway is a 16-year-old girl in North Carolina who is used to getting false alarms when she goes through TSA body scanners. The reason is that Jamii is transgender — she was born male and now lives as a young woman — and the TSA screener operating a body scanner must press a “Male” or “Female” button for each passenger. If the operator presses “Female,” the machine will alarm if the traveler has external genitals. If the operator presses “Male,” the machine will alarm they are wearing a bra. (And, well, if you have a penis while wearing a bra, the machine will alarm no matter which button is pushed.)
I can only imagine that dealing with transitioning genders as a teenager is an extraordinarily difficult experience even without having to deal with the TSA.
TSA standard procedure for when the body scanner alarms on the “groin area” is that a quick pat-down using the back of the screener’s hands is done at the checkpoint to ensure that the traveler is not in possession of any prohibited items, as Jamii had experienced several times before. But, when triggering the scanner last May at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a confused scanner operator called over a supervisor who decided to invent a new procedure for transgender travelers: she told Jamii she must go to a private room, expose herself, and let her “feel up in there.” That is, a TSA supervisor demanded to molest a child. When Jamii’s mother, traveling with her, attempted to intervene, the supervisor told the mother to “mind her business” before trying to recruit her to pressure Jamii into submitting to the “search.”
TSA policies prohibit checkpoint screeners (and supervisors) from conducting strip searches (even though they continue to happen at the hands of “rogue” screeners, knowing that they are unlikely to face discipline). Police and high-level TSA managers were called thanks to a mother unwilling to bend under pressure from a blue-shirted thug, and when police refused to back the search, Jamii and mother left the airport and drove 600 miles to their destination.
As best we can tell, neither the police nor TSA management took any action against the supervisor who wanted to violate Jamii — so on Monday I filed suit on behalf of Jamii in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The actions of the TSA here disgust me more than usual given that this is my first case on behalf of a child, and given the apparent discriminatory motivation. I look forward to obtaining some justice for my clients and hopefully sending a message that transgender people are not second-class citizens while flying.
Americans have already filed 3.3 million unemployment claims — a number which may grow many times over in the coming weeks — as (predominantly) small businesses across the country have been ordered to close to slow the spread of coronavirus. This, combined with what I’m seeing on social media, leads me to believe that there will be millions of Americans who are unable to pay their rent in a few days.
Right now, many (probably, most) courts nationwide are closed to all non-emergency matters. For example, in New York, state courts have been ordered closed “until further order” and attorneys are barred even from e-filing documents. California has done away with in-person hearings and the Chief Justice of the state supreme court has given all lower courts permission to close (an invitation which most courts have accepted). Needless to say, breach of contract and eviction proceedings are not considered emergency matters, and even when the courts re-open, the flood of cases will cause delays that I expect will add months to non-emergency matters.
While it’s hard to generalize for every circumstance and every state, if you can’t pay your rent right now, don’t stress. If you think paying your rent now might mean not being able to afford food later, don’t pay your rent. And still don’t stress. You are in a unique position to negotiate with your landlord because: 1) your landlord can’t immediately throw you out since the courts in most jurisdictions are either closed or backlogged for months, and 2) if landlords throw out everyone who didn’t pay April rent, there would be more vacancies than demand, causing landlords to lose massively on the value of their property — and they know this, so they will avoid it by negotiating your continued tenancy. For once, the free market is working in your favor.
Instead, do save what you can (preferably in a separate bank account) so that you have money to negotiate with. In June, saying, “I’ll pay you half what I owe you and starting July I’ll go back to paying full price if you’ll forgive the rest,” gives you a lot more leverage than, “I’ve got nothing for you, but trust me, I’ll start paying soon.”
Finally, while your state may be talking about some kind of rent bail-out bill, please understand that while this feels like the right thing to do, it might not be possible. Such a bill could demand that landlords eat the loss, but there are constitutional concerns with that. In particular, the Constitution says, “No State shall enter into any … Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” U.S. Const., Art. I, § X, Cl. 1 (the “contracts clause”). This problem could be solved by the state eating the loss, but can your state afford to pay everyone’s rent for a few months? Suffice to say, I don’t recommend counting on a bail-out to take care of all of your rent bills.
Be well, take care of yourself first, take care of your landlord later.
Edit – A commenter, Roland, brings up a good point: Is it better to negotiate with your landlord now? The answer depends on your landlord. If your apartment is owned by an individual or small group that you know and think would be willing to listen, that may be a viable strategy. But, larger companies often tend not to negotiate until upper management decides negotiation is in their interest. For example, if you’re current on your credit card and call your lender and say, “Hey, can we settle this account for 50 cents on the dollar?” they will assuredly tell you no, but if you do the same after 6 months of non-payment, you may get a different answer.
The above is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney who reviews your specific situation.