NY Firm Sues Cuomo Over COVID-19 Closure Orders

By Kevin Penton
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Law360 (May 14, 2020, 4:12 PM EDT) -- A western New York law firm slapped with a "cease and desist" order by the state for continuing to allow employees to report to the office amid the COVID-19 pandemic is suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Letitia James for alleged abuse of power.

HoganWillig PLLC said executive orders Cuomo signed in March that restricted business activities violated the U.S. Constitution, while James' "scare tactics" claims that the firm would face civil and criminal penalties should it not adhere to the orders violates the firm's rights under the Equal Protection Clause, according to Wednesday's complaint in the Western District of New York.

"Defendants, in a disturbing and gross abuse of their power, have seized the COVID-19 pandemic to expand their authority by unprecedented lengths, without any proper constitutional, statutory or common law basis therefore," according to the complaint. "Plaintiff thus brings this lawsuit to assert challenges to the ultra vires actions taken by defendants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

HoganWillig operates out of five offices in the western part of the state. It contends that in late March, the New York State Department of Economic Development designated it as an "essential business," which the firm said allowed it to continue to perform "essential" services in person, according to the complaint.

Following what it calls investigations conducted by officials in James' office, HoganWillig said it received a "cease and desist" letter in April from the officials, calling for the firm to stop employees from reporting to its Getzville, New York, office, according to Wednesday's filing.

HoganWillig said it submitted plans to the state for how to reduce the number of employees who report to the office, including the use of electronic monitoring for workers, but that state officials are unreasonably dissatisfied with the firm's remedies, according to the complaint.

James is standing in the way of individuals who aren't equipped to participate in video conferences and depositions at home, according to the complaint.

"HoganWillig has a protected liberty interest in its right to remain in business without arbitrary governmental interference and in its fundamental property right to use and enjoy the land in which it holds a recognized interest," the firm said in the complaint.

HoganWillig asked that the court issue an order ruling that Cuomo and James are abusing their power and should cease, and that the state pay for the firm's attorney fees and costs, according to the complaint.

James' office declined to comment, a spokeswoman told Law360 on Thursday.

Representatives for the firm could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

HoganWillig is represented in-house by Corey J. Hogan.

Counsel information for New York was not immediately available on Thursday.

The case is HoganWillig PLLC v. James et al., case number 1:20-cv-00577, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.

--Editing by Amy Rowe.

Update: This article has been updated to include a decline to comment from a spokeswoman for James' office.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Hoganwillig, PLLC v. James et al


Case Number

1:20-cv-00577

Court

New York Western

Nature of Suit

Constitutional - State Statute

Judge

John L. Sinatra, Jr.

Date Filed

May 13, 2020

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