Cuomo's office abusing power through coronavirus closures: Lawsuit

Cuomo, state AG 'have seized the COVID19 pandemic to expand their authority by unprecedented lengths'

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A Western New York law firm has accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state's attorney general of abusing their power in ordering further novel coronavirus closures of their business despite that it was deemed essential and therefore allowed to continue in-office operations, a recent lawsuit states.

HoganWillig PLLC, a law firm with several offices throughout the state’s western region, sued Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday after receiving a cease and desist order on April 20 calling on the firm to “implement a work plan to reduce the number of employees reporting to” one of the company’s offices, and transition to the remote-work model, according to the lawsuit, which was shared online by Law360.

But the firm was told in a March 22 email from the New York State Department of Economic Development that its function “is an essential business and/or supports an essential business and is not subject to the required 100% workforce reduction pursuant to the revised Executive Order 202.6,” court papers show.

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The email further stated that the designation only applies to those functions that support essential businesses and no other staffers should continue to work in the offices.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; New York Attorney General Letitia James (Associated Press)

“Defendants, in a disturbing and gross abuse of their power, have seized the COVID19 pandemic to expand their authority by unprecedented lengths, without any proper Constitutional, statutory, or common law basis therefor,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff thus brings this lawsuit to assert challenges to the ultra vires actions taken by Defendants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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A spokesperson for James' office declined to comment on the matter. A rep from Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request.

“The Attorney General’s power grab… offends the United States Constitution. The Executive Order which Defendant James purports to be enforcing either violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it fails to give reasonable direction to people of ordinary intelligence as to what is forbidden under the law, or Defendant James is unlawfully acting to enforce conduct that was never intended to be imposed by Defendant Cuomo’s Executive Orders,” the lawsuit states.

Prior to receiving the cease and desist letter, HoganWillig was contacted multiple times by two assistant attorneys general from James’ office. And when the firm responded to the letter outlining the steps it had already taken to reduce in-person employee numbers, James' office told them it wasn’t enough, the suit states.

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After a series of further back-and-forth, one of the reps from James’ office allegedly accused HoganWillig of “continu[ing] to engage in circumlocution.”

The lawsuit further accuses James, through her staffers, of "putting Plaintiff and other businesses similarly deemed essential, in the impossible position of determining what the Executive Orders do and don’t permit, under threat of civil and/or criminal prosecution.”

People in other states throughout the country are also at odds, as the topic of coronavirus closures has even prompted threats of legal action by politicians or government officials against others.

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In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton this week lashed out at the cities of Dallas, Austin and San Antonio over what he called “unlawful" local orders that are tougher than restrictions prescribed by Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, and recently threatened lawsuits if the cities don't back off. The warning came one day after El Paso pleaded to postpone easing up on any more lockdown measures in light of the number of COVID-19 cases there surging 60% over the past two weeks.

And some local health officials in Wisconsin rescinded their stay-at-home orders Friday after attorneys warned they could be vulnerable to legal challenges after the state Supreme Court wiped out Gov. Tony Evers' statewide order.

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Meanwhile, in Michigan, the Republican-led Legislature sued Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and asked a judge to declare invalid and unenforceable her stay-at-home order and other measures issued to combat the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.