Monday, March 21, 2022

Churches Can Move Ahead On Damage Claims Against County For Its COVID Orders

In Calvary Chapel San Jose v. Cody, (ND CA, March 18, 2022), two churches and their pastors sued the state of California and Santa Clara County over their COVID orders. As explained by the court:

Beginning in March 2020, both the State and the County issued emergency orders that instituted capacity limits for certain types of facilities, restricted the practice of certain activities (including singing and chanting), and required individuals to wear masks in many situations....

[Plaintiffs alleged] that the emergency orders imposed harsher restrictions on churches than on other institutions. When Calvary Chapel admittedly defied those orders, Plaintiffs allege that the County sent threatening letters to the church’s bank and levied against it millions of dollars in fines for the violations. Plaintiffs bring nine claims, alleging violations of their First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution, violations of the California Constitution, and a violation of California’s Bane Act.

The court granted the state of California's motion to dismiss, finding that plaintiffs' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief are moot, and that any claim for damages is barred by the 11th Amendment. However damage claims against the county were allowed to move forward. The court concluded that plaintiffs had adequately plead free exercise, freedom of assembly, equal protection, and excessive fines claims.