Atlanta court upholds CDC eviction moratorium

The 11th U.S. Court of Appeals is one run below the U.S. Supreme Court and hears cases from Georgia, Alabama and Florida. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
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The 11th U.S. Court of Appeals is one run below the U.S. Supreme Court and hears cases from Georgia, Alabama and Florida. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

The federal appeals court in Atlanta on Wednesday upheld the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide freeze on most evictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2-1 opinion by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the landlords who brought the suit failed to do what they needed to do to strike down the moratorium: prove they have suffered an “irreparable injury” because of the freeze.

The moratorium has been in place since March 2020, first under the CARES Act and then after the CDC imposed the freeze last September. The Biden Administration has since repeatedly extended the moratorium, and when announcing in June it was banning evictions until July 31, the administration said that was “intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.”

If the ban lapses, housing experts worry a deluge of evictions could be forthcoming. Between April 2020 and the middle of June, almost 75,000 evictions had been filed in five metro Atlanta counties, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

In the 11th Circuit case, the landlords argued they will never recover unpaid rent because their tenants are insolvent.

Judge Britt Grant, writing for the majority, noted that tenants had to file documents that declared they could not pay rent because of loss of income or extraordinary medical expenses, they had tried their best to make partial payments and if they were evicted they could become homeless.

“These attestations certainly show that the tenants could not afford their rent at the time they were signed,” Grant wrote. “But they paint a hazy picture — at best — of any given tenant’s ability to pay later.”

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Judge Britt Grant, a member of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Judge Britt Grant, a member of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
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Judge Britt Grant, a member of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

The decision upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee in Atlanta. He found the landlords’ economic harms were outweighed by the potential loss of lives the government had argued could occur if the moratorium is lifted.

Writing in dissent, 11th Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch dismissed that reasoning: “The government has not demonstrated that allowing a handful of evictions go forward would cause any loss of life, let alone the massive loss of life it has claimed could happen if the (eviction freeze) is invalidated nationwide.”

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