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.).