Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

October 16, 2020, Decided; October 16, 2020, Filed

20-CV-4844 (NGG) (CLP)

Opinion

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York ("the Diocese") claims, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Defendant Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's New Cluster Action Initiative, as enacted by New York Executive Order 202.68 in response to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in certain areas of the state, violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment as applied to the Diocese's churches. The Diocese seeks a preliminary injunction to bar the enforcement of Executive Order 202.68 against it. (See Pl. Mot. for a Prelim. Inj. (Dkt. 3); Pl. Mem. in Supp. of Mot. ("Mem.") (Dkt. 4); Def. Mem. in Opp. to Mot. ("Opp.") (Dkt. 18); Pl. Reply (Dkt. 24).) For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND1

A. The COVID-19 Pandemic in New York

In the past seven months, more than 479,000 people in New York State have tested [*2]  positive for COVID-19 and more than 25,000 people have died.2 The most fortunate New Yorkers will remember always the devastation that the first wave of the pandemic wrought. Tens of thousands of others, disproportionately frontline workers, low income people, and people of color3—or a combination thereof—will not. New York today is not like the New York of October 2019, but it is also a much different, and safer place than the New York of April and May 2020. That is due, in no small part, to the response of state and local governments, as well as the efforts of non-governmental institutions, like the Diocese.

New York was among the first states hit by the pandemic and, at its worst, the state had more COVID-19 cases than any single country in the world other than the United States. (Declaration of Dr. Debra S. Blog ("Blog Decl.") (Dkt. 20) ¶ 25.) Beginning in March 2020 and continuing up to the present day, Governor Cuomo has implemented a series of executive orders to combat the virus: from a facemask mandate, to closures of certain businesses and gathering places, to efforts to reduce density and promote social distancing, to cleaning protocols, and more. (See id. ¶¶ 29-36.) [*3]  The efforts to "flatten the curve" have worked. In March and April 2020, over ten-thousand people were testing positive for COVID-19 in New York daily. (Id. ¶ 37, see also n. 2 supra.) By June 2020, daily positive cases were in the hundreds with a positivity rate around 1%, where it has remained thus far. (Id.) On April 14, 2020 over one-thousand New Yorkers died of COVID-19, with a seven-day average of over nine-hundred deaths per day.4 On October 14, 2020, eleven New Yorkers died, with a seven-day average of nine deaths per day.5

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 192292 *; __ F. Supp. 3d __; 2020 WL 6120167

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, Plaintiff, -against-GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO, in his official capacity, Defendant.

Prior History: Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 188459 (E.D.N.Y., Oct. 9, 2020)

CORE TERMS

gatherings, religious, churches, worship, strict scrutiny, religious practice, regulations, houses, merits, zones, preliminary injunction, protocols, target, cases, irreparable harm, restrictions, executive order, public interest, non-essential, concerts, pandemic, schools, courts, likelihood of success, free exercise, public health, red zone, restaurants, injunction, in-person