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Lawsuits & Litigation

New Hampshire Men Sue State Over Coronavirus Emergency Measures

— March 20, 2020

The three men say not being able to go to church or Republican Party meetings during a national and state-level emergency is a violation of their civil rights.

A group of New Hampshire residents have sued the state for its prohibition on gatherings of more than 50 people, a measure designed to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

The Boston Globe reports that the lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Merrimack Superior Court. The complaint alleges that New Hampshire Gov. Christopher Sununu lacks the authority to ban or restrict public gatherings. Furthermore, the plaintiffs say “there is no emergency that allows such an order.”

The lawsuit—which the Globe says was filed by three men acquainted with Manchester-area lawyer Dan Hynes, a former state representative—goes so far as to suggest that coronavirus’s limited spread in New Hampshire means emergency measures shouldn’t be taken.

Hynes, too, has thrown his support behind the trio, acting as their attorney.

“When ZERO people have died, and only 17 people have been diagnosed, there is no emergency, as a matter of law,” the suit states.

An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via
An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via

Hynes told the Globe that he himself is upset by Sununu’s order, yet recognizes his opinion isn’t shared by everyone.

“When I saw the governor’s order, I was rather upset and other people were too,” he said. “We understand that we are very much in the minority here.”

One of the three plaintiffs, Eric Couture, said he feels his constitutional right to assembly is “aggrieved” by Sununu’s emergency.

“We can choose to assemble if that is our desire,” Couture said in a press release. “What cannot occur is one man in a position of power deciding to strip us of our right sin the name of safety and without due process.”

But a judge didn’t agree: as The Associated Press Notes, the group’s request for an immediate injunction against the ban was denied on Friday. And a spokesperson for Gov. Sununu said the emergency order is not only a power afforded to the governor, but consistent with actions taken across the country.

The plaintiffs, though, seem less concerned with public safety than their own convenience. The complaint details, among other things, chores, errands and meetings the three men may miss due to aspects of a declared national emergency behind replicated at the state level. Among the pressing functions recounted by The Associated Press: “meetings of the Grafton County Republican committee, services and Sunday school at a Baptist church and a Meetup group to discuss “petitioning the government for redress of grievances.””

“We ask others to let the governor’s office know that they are opposed to living under a government that controls the people, instead of the other way around,” Hynes said.

The A.P. notes that coronavirus cases in the state have more than doubled since the suit was filed on Tuesday.


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