On July 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that statutory language did not authorize the CDC to implement a moratorium on evictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs, a group of rental property owners and managers, filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory judgment and a preliminary injunction, claiming the CDC’s order exceeded the government’s statutory grant of power and violated the Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act. The district court found that the moratorium exceeded the government’s statutory authority under 42 U.S.C. § 264(a) and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on the declaratory judgment claim. The 6th Circuit denied the government’s motion for an emergency stay pending appeal, citing that the government was unlikely to succeed on the merits.
In affirming the district court’s ruling and addressing the merits in the current order, the 6th Circuit reviewed whether Section 264(a) of the Public Health Act of 1944 allowed the CDC to issue its moratorium. The appellate court held that while the statute allows the Surgeon General, with the approval of the Secretary, to make and enforce such regulations as are “necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession,” it “does not grant the CDC the power it claims.” Additionally, the appellate court concluded that an eviction moratorium did not fit the mold of actions permitted under the statute’s language. The 6th Circuit emphasized that even if the language of the statute could be construed more expansively, it could not “grant the CDC the power to insert itself into landlord-tenant relationships without clear textual evidence of Congress’s intent to do so.” Writing that “[a]gencies cannot discover in a broadly worded statute authority to supersede state landlord-tenant law,” the appellate court explained that the government’s interpretation of the statute presented a nondelegation problem, which “would grant the CDC director near-dictatorial power for the duration of the pandemic, with authority to shut down entire industries as freely as she could ban evictions.” Furthermore, the appellate court concluded that any potential ratification taken by Congress last December when former President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which, among other things, extended the expiration date of the eviction moratorium, “did not purport to alter the meaning of § 264(a), so it did not grant the CDC the power to extend the order further than Congress had authorized.”