Dare County recently agreed to settle a lawsuit over the COVID-19 travel restrictions it implemented at the start of the pandemic.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state and local officials were scrambling to figure out how to handle the crisis. One of the first things many states, cities, and counties did was to implement travel restrictions. For example, Dare County, North Carolina shuttered out non-resident property owners back on March 20 after it declared a State of Emergency on March 16. The move was to “help limit the number of people in the county and prevent the spread of the virus.” As a result, the county was hit with a lawsuit by and six out-of-state, non-resident property owners over the restricted access to the county. Now, that lawsuit has reached a settlement.
Many of the restrictions began being lifted in Dare County in May. For example, beginning May 4, the county “reopened in phases to non-resident property owners on May 4…restrictions on visitors to Dare County were lifted May 16.” When the restrictions were in place, checkpoints were set up around the county entry points. Non-residents were turned away. The move prompted the lawsuit filed by plaintiffs from Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina. According to them, the travel restrictions adopted by Dare County were unconstitutional. They argued they “should be able to enter the county right away to prepare their properties for the spring and summer season.”
As part of the recent settlement, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs said it includes a provision “that non-resident property owners will be treated the same as residential property owners in the event of a public health emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic.” Additionally, the county will cover the plaintiff’s attorney fees, which clocks in at about $16,500. S.C. Kitchen, the attorney who represented John Bailey, a plaintiff, said:
“The Plaintiff nonresident property owners are pleased with the settlement as they had sued for not being treated the same as residential property owners in that they were not allowed to go to their property in Dare County even though resident property owners were. This was alleged by the Plaintiffs to be a violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution.”
The settlement was established on June 18. As long as the provisions laid out in the settlement are fulfilled, the suit will be dismissed by August 31, 2020.
When commenting on the recent agreement, Kitchen added, “This settlement shows that the Constitution is still in effect even in a pandemic.”