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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Supreme Court lifts federal eviction moratorium

Courts U.S. Supreme Court Covid-19 CDC Consumer Finance Evictions CFPB Regulation F

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On August 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Alabama Association of Realtors et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et al. to lift the federal government’s eviction moratorium, stating the CDC lacked authority to impose the ban. This decision follows the Court’s June decision, which previously denied the group’s request to lift the eviction moratorium in order to let the ban expire at the end of July as intended to allow for a “more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In agreeing with the group’s argument that the law on which the CDC relied upon did not allow it to implement the current ban, the majority held that “[i]t strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts,” pointing out that, as the Court noted in its June decision, “[i]f a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.” This decision vacates a stay on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s judgment placed by the same court and renders the district court’s judgment enforceable. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the district court ruled that the CDC exceeded its authority when it imposed the temporary ban and stated that because the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) does not “grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium” the moratorium must be set aside.

The dissenting judges faulted the Court for deciding the issue without full briefing and argument, arguing that a stay entered by a lower court cannot be vacated “unless that court clearly and ‘demonstrably’ erred in its application of ‘accepted standards.’” Among other things, they pointed out that “it is far from ‘demonstrably’ clear that the CDC lacks the power to issue its modified moratorium order” as the CDC’s current, modified order targets only regions experiencing a spike in transmission rates. They further argued that the PHSA’s language authorizes the CDC “to design measures that, in the agency’s judgment, are essential to contain disease outbreaks,” and that “the balance of equities strongly favors leaving the stay in place.” According to the minority, “public interest strongly favors respecting the CDC’s judgment at this moment, when over 90% of counties are experiencing high transmission rates.”

Notably, the decision impact’s the CFPB’s interim final rule (Rule) amending Regulation F to require all landlords to disclose to tenants certain federal protections put in place as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (covered by InfoBytes here). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee denied a request in May for a temporary restraining order to block the Rule, but noted however, that “by its own terms the Rule applies only during the effective period of the CDC Order, only to tenants to whom the CDC Order reasonably might apply, and only in jurisdictions in which the CDC Order applies. Defendant CFPB has opined, in its response to the Motion, that ‘the Rule’s provisions—by the Rule’s own operation—have no application where the CDC Order, on account of a court order or otherwise, does not apply.’ . . . The Court concurs with this view, and it intends to hold CFPB to this view (and believes that other courts perhaps should do likewise).”

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