By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed the District Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction in a challenge, under the U.S. Constitution’s Contracts Clause, to the City of Los Angeles’s “eviction moratorium” applicable to residential tenancies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Circuit Judge Daniel Aaron Bress wrote the opinion which declares that District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson of the Central District of California did not abuse his discretion in concluding that the plaintiff, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (“AAGLA”), “had not shown the required likelihood of success on the merits” to be entitled to interim relief.
The Contracts Clause—contained in Art. I, §10—provides: “No State shall...pass any...Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”
The plaintiff contends that the city breached that clause by declaring that residential landlords are barred from evicting a tenant “if the tenant is unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Such a tenant is protected during “the Local Emergency Period and for 12 months after its expiration,” with that period defined as the “time from March 4, 2020, to the end of the local emergency as declared by the Mayor.”
Violations give rise to private causes of action, as well as “an award of a civil penalty up to $10,000 per violation depending on the severity of the violation,” with up to $5,000 more for breaches affecting elderly or disabled tenants.
“We hold that under modern Contracts Clause doctrine, the district court did not err in determining that the moratorium’s provisions were likely ‘reasonable’ and ‘appropriate’ given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever force plaintiffs challenge may have had in a much earlier era of Contracts Clause jurisprudence, more contemporary Supreme Court case law has severely limited the Contracts Clause’s potency. And whatever other constitutional challenges plaintiff may seek to bring against the Los Angeles eviction moratorium, there is no apparent basis under modem cases to find the challenged provisions unconstitutional under the Contracts Clause—the only issue before us.”
That differentiates the case, he said in a footnote, from that in which the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 12 temporarily enjoined enforcement of a New York eviction moratorium based on apparent due process flaws in the ordinance.
Bress went on to say:
“We need not decide whether the eviction moratorium is a substantial impairment of contractual relations because even assuming it is, given the challenges that COVID-19 presents, the moratorium’s provisions constitute an ‘appropriate and reasonable way to advance a significant and legitimate public purpose.’…AAGLA does not dispute that the eviction moratorium was enacted for a permissible public purpose. Therefore, it can prevail, if at all. only if it can show that the provisions it challenges were not ‘appropriate and reasonable.’…
“AAGLA’s challenge meets its end here because the district court properly deferred to local officials in the reasonableness analysis under modem Contracts Clause precedent….Therefore, assuming without deciding that the eviction moratorium is a substantial impairment of contracts, and undertaking a ‘careful examination’ of its provisions….we conclude that AAGLA is unlikely to show that the eviction moratorium is an unreasonable fit for the problems identified.”
The case is Apartment Association of Los Angeles, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 20-56251.
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