SAN FRANCISCO — During a hearing on Thursday, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler heard arguments in CAA’s lawsuit against the Alameda County eviction moratorium and a companion case that also challenges the Oakland moratorium.
The hearing marks the first time the court has been able to consider whether the county’s moratorium passes constitutional muster.
Thursday’s hearing was the culmination of a process that began in July when CAA and the plaintiffs in the companion case filed motions for summary judgment asking the court to rule on the facial claims asserted in the case. CAA’s motion argued that the county’s continued eviction moratorium effects a physical taking of rental housing owners’ property in violation of the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution, substantially impairs rental property owners’ contracts with tenants in violation of the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that the moratorium violates the Ellis Act, California’s law enshrining the right of landlords to terminate a tenancy to leave the rental housing business.
The oral arguments, which lasted for nearly three hours, focused largely on the two constitutional claims under the Takings Clause and Contracts Clause. Jon Houghton of the Pacific Legal Foundation took the lead on the argument that the moratorium violates the Takings Clause. CAA’s counsel, Christopher Skinnell of Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, LLP, argued that the moratorium violates the Contracts Clause.
Though Judge Beeler did not make a ruling during the hearing, she expressed discomfort with the lack of an end date for the moratorium and posited whether such an ordinance could be upheld outside the context of a public emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think the answer has to be no,” Beeler said in answer to her query.
But Beeler also noted that CAA and the other plaintiffs challenging the ordinances face an uphill battle given the high bar applied to facial challenges, which essentially requires that the challenged law be unconstitutional at all times and under all circumstances. Beeler questioned whether the claims would be better suited to an as-applied challenge which only requires showing that the law is unconstitutional in a specific context. Both CAA’s lawsuit and its companion case also include as-applied challenges to the moratoria, but those claims were not part of the motion considered Thursday.
Beeler took the matter under submission at the conclusion of the hearing and will make a written ruling, though she did not indicate when she expected the ruling to be issued. It’s common for rulings on these types of motions to take several weeks or, in some cases, even months.
“These are complex legal issues and Judge Beeler’s generous time allowance for the parties to argue their cases and thoughtful questions indicate that she is giving the case the consideration it deserves.” said Whitney Prout, CAA’s policy and compliance counsel. “Landlords in Alameda County continue to be harmed every day that this unfair moratorium stays in effect. It’s my hope that the court will issue its ruling quickly and that the ruling recognizes the Alameda County moratorium for what it is: an unconstitutional attack on rental property owners.”