Lawyers from Ballard Spahr and Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans filed a lawsuit last night in federal court, alleging that federal public health agencies have ignored their duties under the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act, and numerous other federal statutes by failing to adequately prepare for or respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plaintiffs include: Coney Island Prep, a Brooklyn-based public charter school and its administrator, Leslie-Bernard Joseph; Housing Works, a community health organization, and its CEO and public health advocate, Charles King; New York City Councilmember Mark Levine, chair of the Council’s Health Committee, whose Northern Manhattan district was disproportionately hard-hit by the pandemic; and Alexandra Greenberg, an infectious disease researcher working and studying at the city’s sole COVID-19 hospital in Central Brooklyn.

The suit alleges that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Failed to create a “biosurveillance network” with the “near real-time” capability “to share data and information to enhance early detection of, rapid response to, and management of, potentially catastrophic infectious disease outbreaks...” By the CDC’s own definition, pandemic biosurveillance means a national program of testing and contact tracing—responsibilities this administration has outright shunned;
  • Disregarded their obligations to provide the public with reports and information regarding the government’s emergency plans, public health threats, and public health disparities based on race and ethnicity;
  • Denied public stakeholders the right to participate in pandemic preparations.

“This is an important case that attempts to address the numerous failures of federal agencies to discharge their legally mandated duties during the ongoing public health crisis presented by COVID-19. It has cost 230,000 American lives and has inflicted pain, suffering and illness upon millions more,” said attorney Norman Siegel. “The time has come to have a federal court compel these federal agencies and officials to do what the federal law requires them to do—for the benefit of all Americans.”

This is the first suit Ballard Spahr has filed as part of its Racial Justice and Equality Initiative—a pro bono plan of action dedicated to combating racial injustice and inequity through litigation—which launched in July.

“Last year, Congress and the President gave federal public health agencies explicit directions and duties to fight pandemics, which have been ignored or undermined by this administration. Our clients, who are on the frontlines of this crisis, need accurate, real-time information of the spread of the virus to protect themselves and the communities they serve, which are primarily communities of color,” said attorney Kahlil C. Williams. “We’re simply asking for the government to do its job.”

The Ballard Spahr team is led by New York Partner Marjorie J. Peerce and Mr. Williams and includes New York Associate Althea L. Daley, Philadelphia Associates Michael R. McDonald, Shawn F. Summers, and Fanta Freeman, and Washington, D.C. Associate Matthew E. Kelley.

The Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans team is led by Partner and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Mr. Siegel and Of Counsel Cary McClelland and includes Partner Herbert Teitelbaum and Of Counsel Goutam Jois.

For further information please contact Norman Siegel, Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans LLP, at nsiegel@stellp.com, 347.907.0867 and Joan Taylor, Ballard Spahr LLP at taylorjm@ballardspahr.com, 412.855.3213.