Landlords, federal agencies battle in court over halting evictions

By , Daily Memphian Published: October 30, 2020 2:56 PM CT
<strong>Jewish Memphians for Social Justice held a gathering on the steps of the Judge D&rsquo;army Bailey Courthouse on Monday, June 15, 2020, as they beg the court to consider the danger of putting families out on the streets during a global pandemic</strong>. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian file)

Jewish Memphians for Social Justice held a gathering on the steps of the Judge D’army Bailey Courthouse on Monday, June 15, 2020, as they beg the court to consider the danger of putting families out on the streets during a global pandemic. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian file)

Attorneys representing the federal government on one side and seven Memphis landlords on the other on Friday, Oct. 30, argued for more than two hours via Skype whether U.S. District Court Judge Mark Norris should at least temporarily block the government’s order halting evictions because of COVID-19.

The judge said he would rule on the landlord’s request for a preliminary injunction as “quickly as possible.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Sept. 4 issued a halt order prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants through Dec. 31. The order is part of an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19 to keep families socially distant within their homes and to prevent homelessness.


Memphis landlords sue U.S. over eviction moratorium


In the Skype hearing viewed online by about 35 people, pictured in separate grids on the screen were Norris in the bottom right corner, landlords’ attorney Joshua Kahane of Glankler Brown in the upper right corner, and Justice Department attorney Leslie Vigen in the upper left corner.

Just as if the hearing were happening in the federal courthouse Downtown, Norris admonished “spectators” not to record or photograph or risk contempt of court.

Kahane made his case while standing behind the desk of his corner law office. Through the windows behind him rolled traffic along Poplar Avenue near Ridgeway Road.

Vigen sat at a desk with wooden art depicting the U.S. flag mounted on the wall behind her.

Norris presided in his black robe, with a court seal on the wall over his head. 

Kahane’s argument included that the CDC’s eviction “halt order” is unconstitutional, exceeds the agency’s authority, denies landlords any due process, and essentially takes their property from them since they cannot reap its value.

The landlords assert that the halt order is “an unlawful exercise of power by the CDC” and is an excessive application of authority, Kahane told the court. Congress never gave the agency the power to prohibit evictions, he said. 

Vigen countered the case “is about maintaining a valid order issued by the public health experts at the CDC ... to prevent the ongoing spread of a deadly disease in the midst of a global pandemic.” 

“Enjoining the order could force millions from their homes, into congregate settings or on the street where COVID-19 spreads easily and at a time the virus is surging in many states and winter is poised to worsen the spread,” Vigen said.

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Topics

eviction moratorium evictions Mark Norris Glankler Brown U.S. District Court
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.


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