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.
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.).
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.