Tandon v. Newsom, No. 21-15228 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Ninth Circuit's order denied appellants' emergency motion for injunctive relief, which sought to prohibit the enforcement of California's COVID-19 restrictions on private "gatherings" and various limitations on businesses as applied to appellants' in-home Bible studies, political activities, and business operations. The court concluded that appellants have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits for their free exercise, due process, or equal protection claims, nor have they demonstrated that injunctive relief is necessary for their free speech claims.
In regard to the free exercise claim, the court concluded that, when compared to analogous secular in-home private gatherings, the State's restrictions on in-home private religious gatherings are neutral and generally applicable and thus subject to rational basis review. The court believed that the best interpretation of Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo, South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, and Gateway City Church v. Newson is that rational basis review should apply to the State's gatherings restrictions because in-home secular and religious gatherings are treated the same, and because appellants' underinclusivity argument fails as they have not provided any support for the conclusion that private gatherings are comparable to commercial activities in public venues in terms of threats to public health or the safety measures that reasonably may be implemented. Therefore, appellants have not shown that gatherings in private homes and public businesses "similarly threaten the government's interest," and they have not shown that strict scrutiny applies.
The court also denied as unnecessary appellants' request for an injunction on their free speech and assembly claims. Based on the district court's ruling, the State's gatherings restrictions do not apply to Appellant Tandon's requested political activities, and given the State's failure to define rallies or distinguish Tandon's political activities from Appellant Gannons' political activities, the court concluded that, on the record before it, the State's restrictions do not apply to the Gannons' political activities.
Finally, the court concluded that the business owner appellants have not established a likelihood of success on their claims. The court has never held that the right to pursue work is a fundamental right and the district court did not err by applying rational basis review to the due process claims. Likewise, business owners are not a suspect class, and the district court correctly applied rational basis review to their equal protection claims.