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Case Name Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo PR-NY-0010
Docket / Court 1:20-cv-04834 ( E.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Presidential/Gubernatorial Authority
Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: A group of Orthodox Jewish synagogues brought this lawsuit against the Governor of New York on October 8, 2020, alleging that the governor's restrictions on gatherings in light of surges in COVID-19 cases violated the Free Exercise Clause. After the district court denied ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: A group of Orthodox Jewish synagogues brought this lawsuit against the Governor of New York on October 8, 2020, alleging that the governor's restrictions on gatherings in light of surges in COVID-19 cases violated the Free Exercise Clause. After the district court denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, they appealed to the Second Circuit and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted the injunction in part to block the enforcement of the executive order's attendance caps pending the outcome of the appeal in the Second Circuit. The case is ongoing.


On October 8, 2020, Agudath Israel and affiliated Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York City filed this lawsuit challenging an executive order issued by Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of the State of New York, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and attorneys' costs and fees. Executive Order 202.68 ("EO 202.68") placed restrictions on gatherings at synagogues and other houses of worship in light of a surge in rates of COVID-19 infections in hotspots identified by the New York State Department of Health. Plaintiffs are an Orthodox Jewish group, Agudath Israel of America, three synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens, Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills, Agudath Israel of Madison, Agudath Israel of Bayswater, and their leaders. Represented by Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, the plaintiffs sued under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, as well as 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988.

On March 7, 2020, pursuant to N.Y. Exec. Law § 29, Governor Cuomo issued the original Executive Order 202, implementing the State Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and declaring a statewide disaster emergency as a result of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next few months, Governor Cuomo issued multiple supplemental Executive Orders, continuing the temporary suspension and modification of certain laws relating to the state of emergency.

In response to a spike in the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in five "hotspots" located in Brooklyn and Queens, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.68 ("EO 202.68") on October 6, 2020, which directed the New York State Department of Health to identify yellow, orange, and red “zones” based on the severity of outbreaks, and impose correspondingly severe restrictions on activity within each zone. EO 202.68 established central “red zones,” where non-essential gatherings were cancelled and schools and nonessential businesses were prohibited from operating in-person. Red zone houses of worship were permitted to remain open with a capacity of 25% maximum occupancy or 10 people, whichever was fewer. Similarly, in orange zones, non-essential gatherings, schools, and certain nonessential businesses were subject to more severe restrictions than houses of worship. Precautionary “yellow zones” were subject to lesser restrictions then red and orange zones. EO 202.68 was temporary and the zones were re-evaluated based on changes in the underlying data.

The executive order was issued in advance of three special holidays for the Orthodox Jewish community to be held on October 9, 10, and 11, for the purpose of "tackl[ing] the risk posed by mass gatherings, including those taking place in houses of worship." When the complaint was filed, two synagogues were located in red zones and one was in an orange zone.

The plaintiffs claimed that EO 202.68 violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and sought a declaratory judgment preventing its enforcement. They argued that the executive order was facially discriminatory towards religious practices compared to similar secular activities and that religious institutions were targeted for punitive reasons because of their religious nature. The same day, the plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for an order to show cause for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The case was assigned to Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto and Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy.

The court ordered the defendants to show cause by October 9 as to why the requested injunctive relief should not be granted.

After the parties submitted briefing and held a hearing, Judge Matsumoto denied the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction because they failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment claim. The court held that EO 202.68 was neutral, generally applicable, and did not burden Plaintiffs’ free exercise rights. Judge Matsumoto noted that the order also shut down nonessential businesses and schools in hotspots as well and found that the new rules were not motivated by an intention to discriminate against Orthodox Jews.

On October 19, the plaintiffs appealed the denial to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and filed a motion for an injunction. The case was scheduled to be heard in tandem with a related case, The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Docket No. 20-3590. Their request for a stay in the district court pending appeal was denied.

On November 9, the Second Circuit denied the plaintiffs' motion for an injunction primarily for procedural reasons because they failed to first request an injunction pending appeal in district court before seeking relief in the Court of Appeals. 979 F.3d 177 (Nov. 9, 2020). But, the order also addressed the similar substantive claims raised in the related case, Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo, and held that the order did not violate the Free Exercise Clause. The court noted that the order was not substantially underinclusive as plaintiffs had alleged because "within each zone, the order subjects religious services to restrictions that are similar to or, indeed, less severe than those imposed on comparable secular gatherings."

The plaintiffs then filed an emergency application for injunctive relief to the Supreme Court on November 16 to prohibit the enforcement of EO 202.68 until the Second Circuit could issue a decision on the merits. Case Number 20A90. The Supreme Court granted the injunction in part on November 25, resting on the reasoning outlined in the related case, Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo, 592 U. S. ____ (Nov. 25, 2020). The Court barred the enforcement of the 10- and 25-person occupancy limits because it found that the executive order was not neutral and that less restrictive rules could have been employed instead. Chief Justice Roberts, along with Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented.

Meanwhile, back in district court, the defendant notified the court in a letter on November 3 of the party's intent to file a motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis that it was moot because the holidays it was based on had already passed.

The case is currently pending appeal in the Second Circuit.

Chandler Hart-McGonigle - 11/28/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
General
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Governor of New York
Plaintiff Description Plaintiffs are an Orthodox Jewish group, Agudath Israel of America, and three synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens, Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills, Agudath Israel of Madison, Agudath Israel of Bayswater, and their leaders.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
None
Source of Relief Litigation
None yet
None
Filed 10/08/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
E.D.N.Y.
11/18/2020
1:20-cv-04834
PR-NY-0010-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D.N.Y.
10/08/2020
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
PR-NY-0010-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
10/08/2020
Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 2-2]
PR-NY-0010-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
10/08/2020
Order to Show Cause [ECF# 6]
PR-NY-0010-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
10/09/2020
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 11]
PR-NY-0010-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
11/03/2020
Re: Agudath Israel of America, et al. v. Cuomo, No. 20-cv-04834 (E.D.N.Y.)(KAM)(RML) [ECF# 18]
PR-NY-0010-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
11/10/2020
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 20]
PR-NY-0010-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Supreme Court
11/25/2020
Order (2020 WL 6954120)
PR-NY-0010-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Supreme Court website
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Judges Breyer, Stephen Gerald (First Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0007
Levy, Robert M. (E.D.N.Y.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-9000
Lohier, Raymond Joseph Jr. (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0006
Matsumoto, Kiyo A. (E.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0003 | PR-NY-0010-9000
Park, Michael Hun (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0006
Rakoff, Jed Saul (S.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0006
Plaintiff's Lawyers Dutton, Sean (Illinois) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0001 | PR-NY-0010-0002
LeRoy, Kevin M. (Illinois) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0001 | PR-NY-0010-0002
Schick, Avi David (New York) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0001 | PR-NY-0010-0002 | PR-NY-0010-9000
Smith, W. Alex (New York) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0001 | PR-NY-0010-0002
Tseytlin, Misha (Illinois) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0001 | PR-NY-0010-0002
Defendant's Lawyers Dorcheh, Maryam Jazini (New York) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0004
James, Letitia (New York) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0004 | PR-NY-0010-0005
McAlister, Erin R. (New York) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0004
Spiegelman, Scott J. (New York) show/hide docs
PR-NY-0010-0004 | PR-NY-0010-0005 | PR-NY-0010-9000

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