By Megan M. Neal

As the public tracks the development of a viable SARS-CoV-2 (“COVID-19”) vaccine, there has been rampant proliferation of fake COVID-19 cures. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has identified a host of products fraudulently marketed to diagnose, treat, or cure COVID-19.[1] Many of these products are faulty, but relatively harmless: fake antibody testing kits and ineffective hand sanitizer, for instance.[2] However, some scientists, frustrated with the lengthy process of testing and approving vaccines, have sought to develop and administer their own COVID-19 vaccines.[3]

Three projects in particular have garnered public attention. The Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (“RaDVaC”) has “designed, produced, and self-administered several progressive generations of nasal vaccines against SARS-CoV-2.”[4] Its collaborators are publicly listed, as are instructions for making the vaccine.[5] RaDVaC aims to publicize how to make this vaccine, but does not intend to sell the vaccine.[6] So far, collaborators have administered the vaccine to themselves, family, and friends.[7]

Another collaboration, CoroNope, seeks funding to develop a vaccine for eventual public availability.[8] CoroNope collaborators are anonymous, citing fears of repercussions from employer and the FDA.[9] The group acknowledges that any treatment it creates will likely not “be adopted by the medical community in any official sense.”[10]

Finally, an individual, Johnny T. Stine, developed, sold, and administered a vaccine purporting to (1) immunize uninfected recipients against COVID-19 and (2) cure recipients infected with COVID-19.[11] Stine has a background in antibodies through his company, North Coast Biologics, LLC, which focuses on antibody research.[12] Stine’s COVID-19 vaccine development process was dubious. He “tested the product only on himself and potential[ly] a family member.”[13] After doing so, he deemed the vaccine effective and advertised it—at a cost of $400 per person—on Facebook and LinkedIn.[14] Despite some negative responses, these social media advertisements did generate customers for Stine: he inoculated about thirty individuals living in Washington, Montana, Arizona, and Texas.[15]

The manufacture and distribution of homemade or unapproved drugs is not entirely without precedent. For instance, in 2017 a Chicago pediatrician voluntarily surrendered his medical license after altering allergy shots with cat saliva and vodka.[16] Additionally, courts have held against drug manufacturers that distributed unapproved new drugs.[17] In United States v. X-Otag Plus Tablets,[18] a federal district court held that a new drug could be seized, and the manufacturer could be enjoined from further producing the drug, which had not been approved by the FDA prior to distribution.[19] Ultimately, the court accepted the government’s expert testimony that the drug was not “safe and effective” over testimony from the manufacturer’s experts.[20]

Accordingly, RaDVaC, CoroNope, and Stine’s vaccine present a host of legal issues. In fact, Stine has already faced legal action. The Attorney General of Washington sent him a cease and desist letter in April,[21] and the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission sent him a warning letter in May.[22] In June, the Washington Attorney General pressed charges against Stine under Washington’s unfair and deceptive trade practices statute.[23] The parties ultimately reached a settlement in which Stine agreed to offer restitution to all vaccine recipients by refunding the $400 charge.[24] Additionally, the Consent Decree enjoined Stine from further producing or distributing the vaccine[25] and required him to make a monetary payment.[26]

RaDVaC and CoroNope, on the other hand, have not yet faced disciplinary or legal action.[27] Nonetheless, RaDVaC has sought some legal protection. The group consulted an attorney,[28] and the group lists disclaimers on the document detailing how to develop and administer its vaccine.[29]

These projects are not necessarily immune from liability, though. In March, the Department of Health and Human Services published a Notice of Declaration shielding COVID-19 drug manufacturers from potential liability in some circumstances.[30] However, manufacturers that engage in “willful misconduct” are not shielded from liability.[31] As used in the Notice of Declaration, “willful misconduct” means “an act or omission that is taken (i) intentionally to achieve a wrongful purpose; (ii) knowingly without legal or factual justification; and (iii) in disregard of a known or obvious risk that is so great as to make it highly probable that the harm will outweigh the benefit.”[32] Notably, neither the Notice of Declaration nor the relevant statutory guidelines define “wrongful purpose,” likely leaving the definition to judicial interpretation. Given the exigent need for a COVID-19 vaccine, however, a court may determine that RaDVaC and CoroNope’s decisions to fast-track a their vaccines does not constitute a “wrongful purpose.”

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FD&C Act”) may also pose an issue for homemade vaccine developers. The FD&C Act restricts misbranded and unapproved drugs.[33] It further prohibits introducing such drugs into interstate commerce.[34] Critically for consumers, the FD&C Act does not allow a private right of action.[35]

Additionally, under the Public Health Service Act (“PHS Act”), unlicensed biological products may not be marketed.[36] The PHS Act also bans the use of unlicensed biological products in humans without proper licensing.[37]

Accordingly, the aforementioned collaborations’ actions may result in legal liability. For instance, one RaDVaC collaborator stated that approximately 30 individuals in the United States and other countries have been inoculated with RaDVaC’s vaccine.[38] However, as the collaboration simply publishes instructions for making its vaccine, but does not actually make and distribute it, it remains unclear whether the vaccine has been introduced into interstate commerce. And, as of now, neither RaDVaC nor CoroNope’s products are licensed biological products as required for use in humans by the PHS Act.

Furthermore, should any recipients be injured as a result of these homemade vaccines, these collaborations may face liability for participants’ injuries, depending on whether the collaborations’ actions are deemed “willful misconduct.”

Liability may also depend on the scale of these projects. One RaDVaC project collaborator posits that the group has not yet faced legal or disciplinary proceedings because the project is relatively small. RaDVaC collaborators have not sold or advertised the vaccine beyond friends and family, and the project has received minimal media attention.[39] Accordingly, should these projects expand or change—perhaps by making and selling the vaccines they have designed—their legal situation may change as well.


[1] Fraudulent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Products, FDA, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/health-fraud-scams/fraudulent-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-products (last updated Sep. 21, 2020).

[2] See id.

[3] Heather Murphy, These Scientists Are Giving Themselves D.I.Y. Coronavirus Vaccines, N.Y. Times (Sept. 1, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/01/science/covid-19-vaccine-diy.html.

[4] RaDVaC Mission, Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative, https://radvac.org (last visited Sept. 22, 2020).  

[5] Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative, SARS-CoV-2 (2019-nCoV) Vaccine (2020), https://radvac.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/White-Paper-SARS-CoV-2-vaccine-ver-3-0-1.pdf.

[6] Murphy, supra note 3.

[7] Antonio Regalado, Some Scientists Are Taking a DIY Coronavirus Vaccine, and Nobody Knows If It’s Legal or If It Works, MIT Tech. Rev. (July 29, 2020), https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/29/1005720/george-church-diy-coronavirus-vaccine/.

[8] CoroNope, CoroNope: A Crowdsourced SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine (2020), https://siasky.net/bACLKGmcmX4NCp47WwOOJf0lU666VLeT5HRWpWVtqZPjEA.

[9] Murphy, supra note 3.

[10] CoroNope, supra note 8, at 1.

[11] Complaint, State v. Stine, No. 20-2-09935-0 SEA (Wash. Super. Ct. June 12, 2020), https://agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/2020_06_12Complaint.pdf.

[12] Id. at 2. Additionally, the Complaint notes that it appears North Coast Biologics was administratively dissolved in 2012, but Stine may have continued to operate under the name of the company. Stine marketed his vaccine through North Coast Biologics’ Facebook page. Id. at 7.

[13] Id. at 8.

[14] Id. at 5.

[15] Id. at 9.

[16] Vikki Ortiz, Doctor Could Lose License After Giving Vaccines Made with Cat Saliva, Vodka, Chi. Trib. (Oct. 20, 2016), https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-flossmoor-doctor-cat-saliva-vaccines-met-20161020-story.html; Search for a License, Ill. Dep’t of Fin. & Pro. Regul., https://ilesonline.idfpr.illinois.gov/DFPR/Lookup/LicenseLookup.aspx (select “Medical Board” License Type and search First Name “Ming” and Last Name “Lin,” from the results select the listing for “Ming Te Lin MD”).

[17] See, e.g., United States v. Pro-Ag, Inc., 968 F.2d 681, 682 (8th Cir. 1992) (holding that products intended for animal use qualified as drugs because they were “intended to alter the structure or function of the body of animals,” and that “the products have never been approved as animal drugs and, therefore, they may not be sold interstate without such approval under section 331(a) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act”); United States v. Undetermined Qualities of Articles of Drug, 145 F. Supp. 2d 692, 704 (D. Md. 2001) (holding that injunctive relief was proper to bar defendants from manufacturing and distributing misbranded, unapproved new drugs because the government “establish[ed] that the Defendants violated the FDCA and that there exists ‘some cognizable danger of recurrent violation . . . .’” (quoting United States v. W. T. Grant Co., 345 U.S. 629, 633 (1953))); United States v. Richlyn Labs., Inc., 822 F. Supp. 268, 274 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (holding that “[t]he issuance of a permanent injunction enjoining the Defendants from manufacturing, processing, packaging and distributing their drug products until such time as they are in full compliance with Current Good Manufacturing Practices and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is the only appropriate remedy available to safeguard and protect the public health, safety and welfare”).

[18] 441 F. Supp. 105 (D. Colo. 1977).

[19] Id. at 107.

[20] Id. at 114.

[21] Cease and Desist Letter from Bob Ferguson, Att’y Gen. of Wash., to Johnny T. Stine, North Coast Biologics (Apr. 23, 2020), https://agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploadedfiles/Another/News/Press_Releases/Stine-North%20Coast%20Biologics%20Cease%20and%20Desist%20Letter.pdf.

[22] Warning Letter from Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, FDA, to Johnny T. Stine, North Coast Biologics (May 21, 2020), https://www.fda.gov/inspections-compliance-enforcement-and-criminal-investigations/warning-letters/north-coast-biologics-607532-05212020.

[23] Complaint, State v. Stine, supra note 11, at 9–10.

The Complaint alleges that Stine’s “unfair and deceptive conduct in trade or commerce” included: “misrepresenting the health benefits of the purported “vaccine” [Stine and North Coast Biologics] developed and marketed”; “representing that the product [Stine and North Coast Biologics] developed could vaccinate consumers against COVID-19 without adequate scientific substantiation for these representations”; “offering a product they represented to be a vaccine without adequately testing the product’s effectiveness or safety for use in humans”; “representing that Stine was immune from COVID-19 without adequate scientific administration”; and “offering to cure a human disease, ailment, or condition without a medical license.” Id. Washington’s unfair and deceptive trade practice statute reads in full: “Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.” Wash. Rev. Code § 19.86.020.

[24] Consent Decree, State of Washington v. Stine, NO. 20-2-09935-0 SEA, at 4–5 (Wash. King Cty. Super. Ct. 2020), https://agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/2020_06_22ConsentDecree.pdf.

[25] Id. at 3–4.

[26] Id. at 5–6.

[27] Regalado, supra note 7.

[28] Id.

[29] Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative, supra note 5, at 2–5.

[30] Declaration Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act for Medical Countermeasures Against COVID-19, 85 Fed. Reg. 15,198, 15,198 (Mar. 17, 2020). The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act authorized this action. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 247d-6d, 6e.

[31] Declaration Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act for Medical Countermeasures Against COVID-19, 85 Fed. Reg. at 15,198.

[32] 42 U.S.C. § 247d-6d.

[33] 21 U.S.C. §§ 321–399i.

[34] Id. § 331. The FDA noted these prohibitions in its Warning Letter to Stine.

[35] Id. § 327.

[36] 42 U.S.C. § 262.

[37] Id.; see also 21 U.S.C. § 355(i); 31 C.F.R. § 312 (governing “procedures and requirements governing the use of investigational new drugs, including procedures and requirements for the submission to, and review by, the Food and Drug Administration of investigational new drug applications”). The FDA noted these prohibitions in its Warning Letter to Stine.

[38] Murphy, supra note 3.

[39] Regalado, supra note 7.

Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

By Amanda Manzano

           The rapid spread of COVID-19 has disrupted business as usual across the globe and created a “new normal” for human social behavior; a normal that U.S. prisons and jails as we know them do not have the luxury, or ability, to implement. Physical distancing in public, self-isolation, and the use of face masks have all cemented themselves as routine practices in daily American life per CDC guidelines issued in the virus’s wake.[1] The CDC advises that avoiding exposure to the illness is the single best measure to prevent infection, and accordingly, recommends a minimum of six feet between person to person.[2] The Federal Bureau of Prisons (the “BOP”) has limited visitation, transfers, and staff training to limit the spread as much as possible, but what is happening within prison walls to manage internal spread and keep inmates safe?[3] The reality is, the infrastructure of American jails and prisons is such that managing disease is difficult during ordinary times, let alone in a pandemic of this magnitude, and the virus is taking its toll behind bars.

            The BOP notes modified operations in light of COVID-19 to maximize social distancing.[4] These efforts include “consideration of staggered meal times and staggered recreation times . . . to limit congregate gatherings.”[5] A cursory glance at infections throughout the BOP’s 122 facilities demonstrates this response is failing.[6] As of April 23, 620 federal inmates and 357 BOP staff have tested positive for COVID-19.[7] Twenty-four inmates have died.[8] Reports from state prisons are even more grim. The Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio is home to one of the most rampant outbreaks in the country.[9] There, 73 percent of inmates have tested positive for the virus.[10] The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reports 3,816 inmates and 346 staff have tested positive in its twenty-eight facilities.[11] At Rikers Island, home to New York City’s largest jail complex, upwards of 1,000 inmates have contracted the virus.[12]

            Pandemic aside, the CDC acknowledges that health problems are more apparent in jails and prisons than in free communities.[13] The close proximity among inmates and staff, poor circulation, and limited sanitization resources create a breeding ground for contagious disease, and our ability to respond within the current framework is limited.[14] As it stands, the United States has nearly 2.3 million individuals in our jails, prisons, and juvenile correctional facilities.[15] By the numbers, following social distancing guidelines within these institutions would be impossible for the 10.6 million people going into jail each year and additional 600,000 checking into prisons.[16] The BOP’s modifications of staggered meal and recreation times cannot overcome crowded cells and intake rooms to prevent the spread of a virus of this contagion.

            For the time being, the best measure of precaution for the safety of inmates, staff, and the general public is to reduce jail and prison populations as much as possible. U.S. Attorney General William Barr released a memo on April 6 that addresses the heart of this remedy and contentious issue generally: pretrial detention.[17] The purpose of pretrial detention is to assure (a) the appearance of the defendant at trial and (b) the safety of others.[18] The Attorney General acknowledges the risk that every new intake poses to our jails and prisons and recommends an analysis weighing each defendant’s individual risk of flight and threat to the community against the benefits of preventing spread of COVID-19 in these vulnerable institutions.[19] Some cities have halted arrests and prosecutions for low level offenses to help control the flow of inmates.[20] Some have even begun to release low-level offenders from their sentences to clear even more space.[21] Additionally, some argue the elimination of cash bail would avoid undue risk to those who have not been convicted of a crime and free precious space in our jails.[22] A defendant’s inability to post bail during a pandemic broadens the threat from a person and a community to our entire society as each jail and prison becomes a hot spot for COVID-19.

            The infrastructure of our prison complexes and the ethics of incarceration in the United States present challenges every day. COVID-19 highlights some of our shortcomings in the most dramatic of fashions, demonstrating how the risks of crowded and unsanitary facilities extend far beyond those walls. These institutions achieve segregation but cannot, in even the best of circumstances, entirely insulate themselves from the greater public. Providing inmates and corrections staff with subpar facilities and operations will reflect on communities accordingly, and the spread of COVID-19 has shown exactly that.


[1] Coronavirus Disease 2019, CDC (Apr. 13, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html.

[2] Id.

[3] BOP Implementing Modified Operations, Fed. Bureau of Prisons,  https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/covid19_status.jsp (last visited Apr. 24, 2020).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] About Our Facilities, Fed. Bureau of Prisons,  https://www.bop.gov/about/facilities/federal_prisons.jsp (last visited Apr. 24, 2020).

[7] COVID-19 Coronavirus, Fed. Bureau of Prisons, https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/ (last visited Apr. 24, 2020).

[8] Id.

[9] Bill Chappell, 73% of Inmates at an Ohio Prison Test Positive for Coronavirus, NPR (Apr. 20, 2020, 3:58 PM), https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/20/838943211/73-of-inmates-at-an-ohio-prison-test-positive-for-coronavirus.

[10] Id.

[11] COVID-19 Inmate Testing, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (Apr. 23, 2020), https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/DRCCOVID-19Information.pdf.

[12] Deanna Paul & Ben Chapman, Rikers Island Guards Are Dying in One of the Worst Coronavirus Outbreaks, Wall St. J. (Apr. 22, 2020, 8:19 AM) https://www.wsj.com/articles/rikers-island-jail-guards-are-dying-in-one-of-the-worst-coronavirus-outbreaks-11587547801.

[13] Correctional Health: Behind the Wall, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/correctionalhealth/default.htm (last visited Apr. 24, 2020).

[14] Stir Crazy – Prisons Worldwide Risk Becoming Incubators of COVID-19, The Economist (Apr. 20, 2020), https://www.economist.com/international/2020/04/20/prisons-worldwide-risk-becoming-incubators-of-covid-19 [hereinafter Stir Crazy]  

[15] Wendy Sawyer & Peter Wagner, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020, Prison Policy Initiative (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html.

[16] See Id (discussing current incarceration rates and annual trends in new incarcerations). See also Stir Crazy, supra note 14 (analyzing the role of prison population in increasing risk of COVID-19 spread amongst the incarcerated).

[17] Memorandum from the Office of the Attorney General for All Heads of Department Components and All United States Attorneys (Apr. 6, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/file/1266901/download [hereinafter Attorney General’s Memorandum].  

[18] 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(1) (2018).

[19] Attorney General’s Memorandum, supra note 17.

[20] Chris W. Surprenant, COVID-19 and Pretrial Detention, Mercatus Ctr. (Mar. 30, 2020), https://www.mercatus.org/publications/covid-19-policy-brief-series/covid-19-and-pretrial-detention.

[21] Id.

[22] The Bail Project Urges Jail Releases Amid Coronavirus Spread, The Bail Project, https://bailproject.org/covid-19/ (last visited Apr. 24, 2020).

By Alexander S. Boros

So far, 2020 has felt like an eternity and yet we are just four months in.  The spread of COVID-19 has turned the entire world upside down and has transformed the economy in a way we have never seen before.  One of the more interesting twists of fate in the midst of this global crisis was the end of sports in America.[1]  When COVID-19 struck, sports were in full swing: college basketball was entering its postseason, the NBA, MLS, and NHL were mid-season, and Major League Baseball was in the middle of Spring Training.[2]  By March 12, however, state and national social distancing guidelines created “The day the sports world stopped.”[3]  In the coming days, restaurants and bars would shut down and states across the country would shut down all non-essential businesses.[4] 

Millions of Americans would be shut in their homes to flatten the curve but were left without some unifying outlet of entertainment.  Online resources, available from the safety of our own homes, have become the only connection to the outside world.  Internationally, online poker tournaments set records for participation and prize pools, though such gambling is virtually illegal in the United States.[5]  Instead, American gamblers have increasingly wagered on sporting events as their chosen form of entertainment.[6]  When sports shut down, however, that multimillion-dollar gambling industry was also removed from the equation.  In North Carolina alone, sports gambling was expected to bring in $14 million to casinos and $1 million in tax revenues.[7]  Throughout the country, newly developed and well-established sportsbooks alike began facing a question suddenly on the lips of many small businesses owners: How will we stay in business?[8]

It turns out, there is no way to shut down American ingenuity.  In the beginning of April 2020, American sportsbooks FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM each reached out to West Virginia’s Lottery for approval to accept bets in “political market[s].”[9]  Specifically, DraftKings hoped to accept bets on four markets: (1) Winner – Presidential Election; (2) Winning Party Overall; (3) Over/Under seats for each Party – Senate Over/Under for each Party – House Over/Under number of States won; (4) Over/Under Electoral College Votes Obtained and Turnout percentage.[10]  In these conversations, it was taken as a given that gambling on state and local elections was not allowed.[11]  On April 7, the state lottery approved each of the markets.[12]

Betting on elections is “nothing new” internationally.[13]  International gambling websites like InTrade and BetFair became popular in 2012, and the 2016 election brought in record numbers of bets and revenue.[14]  Opening political markets in the United States is a massive opportunity for states as well.[15]  Forecasts suggest that presidential election gambling would produce $1.1 million in new wagers and generating $150 thousand in new tax revenue for West Virginia alone.[16]  Those same projections expected nearly double the wagers on the Presidential election than were placed on Super Bowl LIV.[17]  That is because, although sports are hugely popular in the United States, they do not affect everyone.[18]  American democracy, on the other hand, affects everyone in this country.  Thus, political gambling is hugely popular with first time betters.[19]  In Europe, 12 percent of all wagers placed on the 2016 election were new betters.[20]  That number is nearly six times higher than the percentage of new betters across all other markets offered that year.[21]

Even though initial approval was given to West Virginia’s Sportsbooks, Mac Warner, West Virginia’s Secretary of State, quickly shut down the idea and revoked the approval.[22]  That’s because, in West Virginia, it is “unlawful to bet or wager money or other thing of value on any election held in [the] state.”[23]  It turns out that’s a common restriction across the fifty states.[24]  But should it be?

While direct wagering on elections is illegal,  predictive markets allowing “investing” in political outcomes have been operating within the United States since 1993.[25]  Two of the largest in the country, PredictIt and the University of Iowa’s Electronic Markets, limit the amount of money that can be invested at any time, and all data from the markets is used for research purposes.[26]  Although scholars are divided as to whether there is really a difference between these two markets, arguably the overall results are the same.[27]  At the end of the day, these markets include placing money on candidates based on their odds with either losses or gains that are realized.  Put simply, it is hard to see the distinction between the two forums.  This discussion may be the result of “being so preoccupied with whether or not they could [without stopping] to think if they should.”[28]  That may be a question for a different article.  If Sportsbooks can develop the appropriate, anti-corruption protections to ensure that unfettered gambling does not run amuck on our elections, the country’s next great sport spectacle may well be America’s democracy.


[1] See Mike Vaccaro, The Day Coronavirus Sent the Sports World Into Darkness, N.Y. Post (Mar. 12, 2020, 6:38 PM), https://nypost.com/2020/03/12/the-day-coronavirus-sent-sports-into-hibernation-has-come/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Gabriella Borter, New York Governor Orders All Non-essential Businesses Closed, Says Everyone Must Stay Home, Reuters (Mar. 20, 2020, 11:51AM), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-new-york/new-york-governor-orders-all-non-essential-businesses-closed-says-everyone-must-stay-home-idUSKBN2172JP.

[5] David Purdum, Online Poker Tourney Sets Record Amid Pandemic, ESPN (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/28948562/online-poker-tourney-sets-records-amid-pandemic (noting online poker is legal in only a handful of U.S. states).

[6] See Alexander Boros, North Carolina is All-in on Sports Betting, Wake Forest L. Rev.: Current Issues Blog (Aug. 27, 2020), http://wakeforestlawreview.com/2019/08/north-carolina-is-all-in-on-sports-betting/.

[7] See Andrew Westney, NC House Approves Cherokee Sports Betting Bill, Law360 (July 16, 2019), https://www.law360.com/articles/1177393/nc-house-approves-cherokee-sports-betting-bill (“The bill’s supporters expect sports betting to generate $14 million in annual revenue for the tribe and about $1 million a year for the state.”).

[8] David Purdum, Wynn Las Vegas Temporarily Closing Sportsbook Due to the Coronavirus, ESPN (Mar. 13, 2020), https://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/28900242/wynn-las-vegas-temporarily-closing-sportsbook-due-coronavirus.

[9] Adam Candee, Presidential Election Betting Asks In West Virginia Approved In An Hour, Emails Show, Legal Sports Rep. (Apr. 14, 2020, 1:23PM), https://www.legalsportsreport.com/39947/presidential-election-betting-west-virginia-emails/; see also Emails Between WV Lottery and Sports Betting Companies Regarding Elections Betting, Legal Sports Rep. (Apr. 14, 2020), https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6837062-Emails-between-WV-Lottery-and-Sports-Betting.html [hereinafter Lottery E-mails].

[10] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 20; E-mail from Jacob List, DraftKings, to David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery (Apr. 7, 2020, 1:50 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter List E-mail].

[11] Lottery E-mails, supra note at 9, at 20; List E-mail, supra note 10.

[12] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9at 25; E-mail from David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery, to Jacob List, DraftKings (Apr. 7, 2020, 4:58 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter Bradley E-mail].

[13] Sarah Zhang, You Can Bet Real Money on the US Election. It’s for Research, Wired (Mar. 1 2016, 7:00AM), https://www.wired.com/2016/03/can-bet-real-money-us-election-uh-research/.

[14] Id.; see also Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 22 (“The biggest market in terms of volume matched in the history of the Exchange is the 2016 Next President market …”); E-mail from John Sheeran, PPB.Com, to David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery (Apr. 7, 2020, 2:10 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter Sheeran E-mail].

[15] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 18; E-mail from Erich Zimny, Vice President of Racing & Sports Operations, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, to David Bradley, West Virginia Lottery (Apr. 6, 2020, 3:56 PM) (on file with author) [hereinafter Zimny E-Mail].

[16] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 18; Zimny E-mail, supra note 15.

[17] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9, at 18; Zimny E-mail, supra note 15.

[18] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[19] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[20] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[21] Lottery E-mails, supra note 9,at 24; Sheeran E-mail, supra note 14.

[22] Press Release, Andrew “Mac” Warner, Secretary of State Warner Releases Statement on Wagering on Elections in West Virginia (Apr. 8, 2020), https://sos.wv.gov/news/Pages/04-08-2020-A.aspx.

[23] W. Va. Code § 3-9-22 (2019); see Press Release, supra note 22.

[24] Tamar Lapin, Political Betting Was Legal in West Virginia – For About an Hour, N.Y. Post (Apr. 8, 2020, 9:27 PM), https://nypost.com/2020/04/08/political-betting-was-legal-in-west-virginia-for-about-an-hour/.  

[25] See Zeke Faux, PredictIt Owns the Market for 2020 Presidential Election Betting, BloomsBerg BusinessWeek (Aug. 1, 2019, 9:10 AM), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-01/predictit-owns-the-market-for-2020-presidential-election-betting; Theo Francis, Wanna Bet? The Market Has a View on the 2020 Election, Wall St. J. (Jan. 10, 2020, 1:11 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/wanna-bet-the-market-has-a-view-on-the-2020-election-11578679896.

[26] Research Opportunities, PredictIt, https://www.predictit.org/research (last visited Apr. 20, 2020); About the IEM, U. Iowa, https://iemweb.biz.uiowa.edu/about/?mod=djem_election2020&mod=article_inline (last visited Apr. 20, 2020).

[27] Alexandra Lee Newman, Manipulation in Political Prediction Markets, 3 J. Bus. Entrepreneurship & L. 205, 208 n.25 (2010) (“Prediction market scholars disagree about whether the CFTC legally can regulate public prediction markets generally under the CEA, or whether state gambling laws should regulate these markets.”) (citing to disagreement in literature regarding the differences and likenesses of predictive markets and gambling).

[28] Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures 1993).

By Michael Johnston

           The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally reshaped American life.[1] As a result of the potentially high mortality rate of unchecked COVID-19 spread, many state and local governments have implemented orders shutting down various public activities, and 95 percent of Americans are under some form of lockdown as of April 7, 2020.[2] However, perhaps reflecting the partisan divide of our times, some Republican politicians have actively opposed taking those precautionary measures.[3] In North Carolina in particular, Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who is challenging Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in the November 2020 elections, opposed Governor Cooper’s executive order banning dine-in service in restaurants in March 2020.[4] Lieutenant Governor Forest opposed the order on both procedural and substantive grounds, claiming that Governor Cooper’s action was taken without legal authority and would devastate the North Carolina economy.[5] Lieutenant Governor Forest claimed that Governor Cooper only had the authority to issue the restaurant order with the support of the Council of State, which opposed Governor’s Cooper restaurant order on partisan lines.[6] While Governor Cooper has since issued a stay-at-home order across North Carolina,[7] it is worth analyzing the legal basis of the order banning dine-in service at restaurants, especially because the legality of that order became a politicized issue.[8]

            On March 17, 2020, Governor Cooper issued Executive Order No. 118, which banned dine-in service in restaurants and permitted only take-out and delivery.[9] This action was taken to slow the spread of COVID-19,“flatten the curve” of infection, and reduce strain on the healthcare system.[10] The Governor cited several statutory provisions in support of his authority to issue the order.[11] Specifically, the Governor cited statutes authorizing executive action for the Governor’s Office, the State Health Director, the Emergency Management Division, and the North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services.[12]

            Regarding the Governor’s authority, Governor Cooper’s order[13] cited section 166A-19.10 of the North Carolina General Statutes, which provides the general authority of the Governor of North Carolina,[14] section 166A-19.30 of the North Carolina General Statutes, which provides the emergency authority of the Governor of North Carolina,[15] and section 166A-19.31 of the North Carolina General Statutes, which provides further emergency authority for the Governor if a state of emergency is declared pursuant to section 166A-19.30(c) of the North Carolina General Statutes.[16] Section 166A-19.10(b)(4) empowers the Governor to coordinate with the President of the United States during emergencies,[17] and Governor Cooper’s order cited President Trump’s March 16, 2020, guidelines to limit all social gatherings to ten people.[18] Section 166A-19.30(a)(1) empowers the Governor to declare a state of emergency and “utilize all available State resources as reasonably necessary to cope with an emergency.”[19] Section 166A-19.30(c) empowers the Governor to use municipal authority under section 166A-19.31 if the emergency is a statewide issue and local governments have not done enough to address the emergency.[20] Therefore, section 166A-19.31(b)(2) empowers the Governor, during times of statewide emergency, to order restrictions upon the operations of businesses statewide. Governor Cooper declared a state of emergency for COVID-19 on March 10, 2020,[21] and given the statewide threat posed by COVID-19,[22] it is likely that these statutes provide sufficient authority for Governor Cooper to order the closure of dine-in restaurant services.

            Regarding the State Health Director’s authority, Governor Cooper’s order[23] cited section 130A-145 of the North Carolina General Statutes, which provides the State Health Director with broad quarantine and isolation authority,[24] and section 130A-2 of the North Carolina General Statutes, which defines quarantine authority and isolation authority.[25] Section 130A-2(7a) defines quarantine authority as the authority to limit the freedom of movement of persons who have been exposed or are reasonably likely to have been exposed to a communicable disease, while section 130A-2(3a) defines isolation authority as the authority to limit the freedom of movement of persons who are infected or are reasonably likely to be infected with a communicable disease.[26] Section 130A-145(a) empowers the State Health Director to use both quarantine and isolation authority, which the Director used in Governor Cooper’s order to ban dine-in restaurant services.[27] Again, given the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world[28] and that health officials had identified at least one case of COVID-19 within North Carolina at the time,[29] it was reasonably likely that large gatherings in dine-in restaurants would contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, the State Health Director used their statutory authority to ban dine-in services.

            Regarding the Emergency Management Division’s authority, Governor Cooper’s order[30] cited section 166A-19.12 of the North Carolina General Statutes.[31] This statute provides the Division with the authority to coordinate with the State Health Director to determine “[t]he appropriate conditions for quarantine and isolation in order to prevent further transmission of disease.”[32] After coordinating with the State Health Director, the Emergency Management Division concluded, per Governor Cooper’s order, that dine-in restaurant service should be banned due to COVID-19.[33]

            Regarding the authority of the North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services, Governor Cooper’s order[34] cited section 130A-20 of the North Carolina General Statutes, which provides the Secretary and local health directors with the authority to order the abatement of imminent hazards.[35] Section 130A-2(3) defines imminent hazard to include “a situation that is likely to cause an immediate threat to human life, an immediate threat of serious physical injury, [or] an immediate threat of serious adverse health effects[.]”[36] Section 130A-20(a) empowers the Secretary and local health directors to take action to abate an imminent hazard on private property.[37] Given the rapid threat posed by COVID-19,[38] it is likely within the Secretary’s authority to order the closure of dine-in restaurant services.

            Collectively, the authority of the Governor, State Health Director, Emergency Management Division, and North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services justify Governor Cooper’s order closing dine-in restaurant services. It is true that section 166A-19.30(b) of the North Carolina General Statutes, which includes provisions about the regulation of food services and congregations in public places during emergencies, implies that the Governor must have the support of the Council of State to issue emergency regulations regarding restaurants and other public activities.[39] That is likely why Lieutenant Governor Forest argued that Governor Cooper lacked the authority to issue the executive order.[40] However, the other statutes provide more than sufficient authority for Governor Cooper’s order, especially when the order was issued at the recommendation of the State Health Director, the Emergency Management Division, and the North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services.   

           In short, during health emergencies, the Governor of North Carolina has broad unilateral authority, especially with the support of other emergency and health officials, and Governor Cooper’s executive order banning dine-in restaurant service was within his statutory authority.


[1] State Action on Coronavirus (COVID-19), Nat’l Conf. St. Legis., https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-action-on-coronavirus-covid-19.aspx (last visited Apr. 13, 2020).

[2] Holly Secon & Aylin Woodward, About 95% of Americans Have Been Ordered to Stay at Home. This Map Shows Which Cities and States Are Under Lockdown., Bus. Insider (Apr. 7, 2020, 3:13 PM), https://www.businessinsider.com/us-map-stay-at-home-orders-lockdowns-2020-3; State Action on Coronavirus (COVID-19), supra note 1.

[3] Ronald Brownstein, Red and Blue America Aren’t Experiencing the Same Pandemic, Atlantic (Mar. 20, 2020), https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/03/how-republicans-and-democrats-think-about-coronavirus/608395/.

[4] Editorial Bd., A COVID-19 Order Just for NC Lt. Gov. Dan Forest: Hush, Charlotte Observer (Mar. 18, 2020, 3:21 PM), https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article241298386.html; Lt. Governor Forest Questions Validity of Restaurant Ban, N.C. Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest (Mar. 17, 2020), https://ltgov.nc.gov/news/2020/03/17%20/lt-governor-forest-questions-validity-restaurant-ban.

[5] Editorial Bd., supra note 4.

[6] Travis Fain, Lt. Governor Questions Validity of Governor’s NC Restaurant Ban, WRAL.com (Mar. 17, 2020), https://www.wral.com/coronavirus/lt-governor-questions-validity-of-governor-s-nc-restaurant-ban/19016721/.

[7] Governor Cooper Announces Statewide Stay at Home Order Until April 29, N.C. Dep’t Health & Hum. Servs. (Mar. 27, 2020), https://www.ncdhhs.gov/news/press-releases/governor-cooper-announces-statewide-stay-home-order-until-april-29.

[8] For the purposes of statutory interpretation in this blog post, I will adopt a plain meaning framework. This is because plain meaning analysis is frequently thought to be the best starting point when interpreting statutory text, especially in the absence of caselaw or substantial legislative history. See, e.g., William N. Eskridge, Jr., The New Textualism, 37 UCLA L. Rev. 621, 626–29 (1990).

[9] N.C. Exec. Order No. 118 (Roy Cooper, Governor) (Mar. 17, 2020), https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO118.pdf.

[10] Id.; Brandon Specktor, Coronavirus: What Is ‘Flattening the Curve,’ and Will It Work?, Live Science,

https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-flatten-the-curve.html (last visited Apr. 13, 2020).

[11] N.C. Exec. Order No. 118.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 166A-19.10 (2019).

[15] Id. § 166A-19.30.

[16] Id. § 166A-19.30(c); id. § 166A-19.31.

[17] Id. § 166A-19.10(b)(4).

[18] N.C. Exec. Order No. 118.

[19] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 166A-19.30(a)(1).

[20] Id. § 166A-19.30(c); id. § 166A-19.31.

[21] Governor Cooper Declares State Of Emergency to Respond to Coronavirus COVID-19, N.C. Governor Roy Cooper (Mar. 10, 2020), https://governor.nc.gov/news/governor-cooper-declares-state-emergency-respond-coronavirus-covid-19.

[22] Julia Belluz, How Does the New Coronavirus Spread? These New Studies Offer Clues, Vox, https://www.vox.com/2020/2/20/21143785/coronavirus-covid-19-spread-transmission-how (last updated Mar. 8, 2020).

[23] N.C. Exec. Order No. 118.

[24] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-145.

[25] Id. § 130A-2.

[26] Id. § 130A-2(3a); id. § 130A-2(7a).

[27] Id. § 130A-145(a); N.C. Exec. Order No. 118.

[28] Belluz, supra note 22.

[29] North Carolina Identifies First Case of COVID-19, N.C. Dep’t Health & Hum. Servs. (Mar. 3, 2020), https://www.ncdhhs.gov/news/press-releases/north-carolina-identifies-first-case-covid-19.

[30] N.C. Exec. Order No. 118.

[31] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 166A-19.12.

[32] Id. § 166A-19.12(3)(e).

[33] N.C. Exec. Order No. 118.

[34] Id.

[35] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-20.

[36] Id. § 130A-2(3).

[37] Id. § 130A-20(a).

[38] Belluz, supra note 22.

[39] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 166A-19.30(b).

[40] Editorial Bd., supra note 4.

By Matthew Hooker

           For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, North Carolina corporations may conduct shareholders’ meetings completely via remote communication technology, pursuant to an executive order by Governor Roy Cooper.[1] This order temporarily resolves an ambiguity in the North Carolina Business Corporation Act pertaining to remote participation in shareholders’ meetings, allowing North Carolina corporations to address pressing business matters without raising concerns about the validity of actions taken at wholly virtual shareholders’ meetings.[2]

            The global crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic[3] has brought the global, national, and local economies to a collective screeching halt.[4] For those businesses that have sought to continue operations, those operations now look vastly different. In the United States, currently at least forty-two states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (together representing around 316 million people) are under various forms of “stay-at-home” orders.[5] Now that avoiding even small groups and staying at home have become the new normal, virtual conferencing platforms using video and screen sharing technology have quickly emerged as vitally necessary to businesses’ continued operations.[6]

            Corporations in North Carolina have been forced to deal with the question of whether shareholders’ meetings may be conducted completely remotely and still be valid under North Carolina law. As drafted, the North Carolina Business Corporation Act is not entirely clear on this issue; it can be interpreted as providing that a valid shareholders’ meeting may only be held at a physical location. To illustrate, the Act refers to holding both annual and special meetings “in or out of this State at the place stated in or fixed in accordance with the bylaws”[7] and requires that a valid notice of a meeting include the “place” of the meeting.[8] Under certain circumstances, the Act allows shareholders to participate and vote in those meetings “by means of remote communication.”[9] But the Act is silent as to whether the entire meeting may be held virtually with no physical place of meeting.[10]

            To bring clarity to this issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for business to be conducted remotely as much as possible, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order on April 1, 2020 authorizing and encouraging remote shareholders’ meetings.[11] This order appears to apply equally to annual meetings and special meetings. Under the order, a corporation’s board of directors may determine that all or part of a shareholders’ meeting may be held solely via remote communication.[12] This type of remote shareholders’ meeting is permissible under two conditions: (1) shareholders must be allowed to participate and vote under the existing remote participation and voting statute,[13] and (2) all shareholders must have the right to participate in the meeting via remote communication.[14] Governor Cooper’s executive order resolves the ambiguity of the North Carolina Business Corporation Act by providing that a “place” of a meeting within the meaning of the Act can include a meeting where all shareholders participate through remote communication (i.e., there is no physical “place” of the meeting).[15]

            But the order goes even further. It also permits a corporation’s board of directors to limit the number of attendees physically present at a shareholders’ meeting in order to ensure conformity to other state gathering restrictions.[16] In other words, it appears that not only may a board of directors call for a completely remote shareholders’ meeting, but the board could also hold a meeting at a physical place but then prohibit shareholders from physically attending and force shareholders to attend remotely.

            This executive order provides North Carolina corporations with clarity during the COVID-19 crisis. It enables them to conduct meetings and business that involve shareholders without fear that actions taken at a remotely held shareholders’ meeting will be deemed void.[17] In the midst of a global crisis such as COVID-19, it is important that corporations can continue to operate as best as they can without compromising the health and safety of shareholders, among others.

            However, not only does Governor Cooper’s order resolve this important issue for corporations as long as the COVID-19 emergency lasts, but it also reveals that the North Carolina Business Corporation Act needs updating. The current version of the North Carolina Business Corporation Act was enacted in 1989 and thus does not comprehend many of the vast technological shifts and developments of the 21st century.[18] Although the Act was amended in 2013 to allow shareholders to remotely participate in shareholders’ meetings,[19] the addition of that provision only explicitly allows remote participation; the Act overall still seems to contemplate some sort of physical location where the meeting is actually held. If anything, that 2013 amendment creates ambiguity rather than resolving confusion. Interestingly enough, Governor Cooper’s executive order actually concludes by advising that the order should not be construed or interpreted as suggesting that a shareholders’ meeting held wholly via remote communication would not otherwise be valid if not for the executive order.[20] Thus, even Governor Cooper’s order seems to subtly acknowledge the lack of clarity within the North Carolina Business Corporation Act on this matter.

            The world has changed greatly since 1989—and even since 2014. With key provisions of the North Carolina Business Corporation Act now over three decades old, it may be time for the North Carolina legislature to revisit the Act. Modern technology has opened up a world of possibilities for corporations, and the Act should reflect that. Remote communication options are just one example. These technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent and dependable—even when no global health crisis exists—and the law should not inhibit progress in the corporate context. In fact, Delaware has long permitted shareholders’ meetings to be held solely via remote communication.[21] Amending the North Carolina Business Corporation Act will align North Carolina with other leading states in corporate law. Ultimately, this will enhance North Carolina’s viability as a modern, attractable location for entity incorporation as well as facilitate existing domestic corporation’s continued leverage of the digital world.


[1] See N.C. Exec. Order No. 125 (Roy Cooper, Governor) (Apr. 1, 2020), https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO125-Authorizing-Encouraging-Remote-Shareholder-Meetings.pdf.

[2] See id. § 1(A).

[3] See WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020, World Health Org. (Mar. 11, 2020), https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—11-march-2020.

[4] See, e.g., Harriet Torry & Anthony DeBarros, WSJ Survey: Coronavirus to Cause Deep U.S. Contraction, 13% Unemployment, Wall St. J. (Apr. 8, 2020, 10:00 AM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/wsj-survey-coronavirus-to-cause-deep-u-s-contraction-13-unemployment-11586354400.

[5] Sarah Mervosh et al., See Which States and Cities Have Told Residents to Stay at Home, N.Y. Times, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-stay-at-home-order.html (last updated Apr. 7, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., Akanksha Rana & Arriana McLymore, Teleconference Apps and New Tech Surge in Demand Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Reuters (Mar. 13, 2020, 3:33 PM), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-teleconference/teleconference-apps-and-new-tech-surge-in-demand-amid-coronavirus-outbreak-idUSKBN21033K.

[7] N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 55-7-01(b), 55-7-02(c) (2019).

[8] Id. § 55-7-05(a).

[9] Id. § 55-7-09(a).

[10] Cf. § 55-7-05(a) (requiring notice of the place of the shareholders’ meeting).

[11] See N.C. Exec. Order No. 125, supra note 1.

[12] Id. § 1(A).

[13] See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 55-7-09.

[14] N.C. Exec. Order No. 125, supra note 1, at § 1(A)(1)–(2).

[15] See id. § 1(B)(2).

[16] Id. § 1(B)(3).

[17] See id. § 1(C).

[18] See 1989 N.C. Adv. Legis. Serv. 265 (LexisNexis).

[19] See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 55-7-09 (2019); 2013 N.C. Adv. Legis. Serv. 153 (LexisNexis).

[20] See N.C. Exec. Order No. 125, supra note 1, at § 1(D).

[21] See Del. Code Ann. tit. 8, § 211(a) (2020).

By Agustin Martinez

Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated many lives,[1] including those of immigrants living in the United States.[2]  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) recently announced that it “will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination . . . even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits” as defined by the new public charge rule.[3]  USCIS’s announcement came days after several congressional leaders asked the Trump Administration to rescind the new public charge rule altogether, in light of the rule’s chilling effect on immigrants seeking COVID-19-related medical assistance.[4]

USCIS’s announcement clarified that obtaining COVID-19-related testing and treatment will not factor into a future public charge analysis, even if such testing or treatment is publicly-funded.  But what about the payments that millions of Americans will receive as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) that was recently signed into law by President Trump?[5]  Some immigrants, for example, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, are expected to receive CARES Act payments.[6]  Will accepting these federally-funded payments negatively affect these immigrants’ chances of obtaining lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a green card) in the future as a result of the new public charge rule?  Although USCIS has not yet directly answered this question,[7] the answer is “no” based on existing law.  Immigrants who are eligible for CARES Act payments should rest assured that receiving this economic relief will not negatively impact any public charge determination in the future.[8]   

Under American immigration law, a person deemed likely to become a public charge is inadmissible, meaning that the person can be denied a green card, visa, or admission into the country.[9]  The new public charge rule does not change this basic principle.[10]  But it does significantly expand the types of publicly-funded programs that USCIS may take into account when assessing whether a person is likely to become a public charge in the future.[11]  Consequently, the new rule may cause immigrants who are eligible for CARES Act payments to think twice before accepting these publicly-funded payments.

The new public charge rule’s definitions[12] and USCIS’s policy manual[13] help answer whether an immigrant’s acceptance of a CARES Act payment will, in turn, be deemed acceptance of a public benefit as defined by the new rule.  Under this regulatory guidance, CARES Act payments are not public benefits, and therefore, USCIS should not consider acceptance of such payments during future public charge determinations.

The new public charge rule generally defines a public benefit as “[a]ny Federal, State, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance (other than tax credits),” “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” “Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program,” “Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance,” “Medicaid,” or “Public Housing under section 9 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937.”[14]  At first glance, it would seem that CARES Act payments fall within the “Federal, State, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance” public benefit category.  That, however, would be an incorrect interpretation of the new rule for the simple reason that CARES Act payments are considered tax credits under the Act.[15]  Indeed, Congress specifically referred to these payments as tax credits within the CARES Act’s text.[16]  Thus, since the new public charge rule expressly excludes “tax credits” from its definition of public benefit, a CARES Act payment is not a public benefit as defined by the rule.[17]

USCIS also confirms, in its policy manual, that tax credits are not public benefits under the new rule.[18]  The agency further explains that “[c]ash emergency disaster relief – Stafford Act disaster assistance including financial assistance provided to persons and households under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Individuals and Households Program and any comparable disaster assistance provided by State, local, or tribal governments” does not mean “cash assistance for income maintenance”[19]  This “cash emergency disaster relief” carveout, along with USCIS’s decision to exclude COVID-19-related testing and treatment from future public charge determinations,[20] likely means that the agency will not interpret CARES Act payments as public benefits.

But even if a CARES Act payment was erroneously deemed a public benefit in an individual case, it is highly unlikely that the payment, alone, would result in the recipient being deemed a public charge.  That is because public charge determinations are, by law, forward-looking and based on the totality of the immigrant’s circumstances.[21]  It would be quite surprising—not to mention, inconsistent with both the Immigration and Nationality Act and the CARES Act—for a one-time payment, authorized by Congress to provide assistance in the midst of a global pandemic, to negatively impact a person’s green card eligibility in the future. To remove any chilling effect[22] and alleviate fear in the immigrant population, USCIS should confirm, like it did for COVID-19-related testing and treatment, that CARES Act payments are not public benefits as defined by the new public charge rule.  Even without this additional guidance, however, the law is clear that there should be no public charge repercussions when eligible immigrants receive CARES Act payments.


[1]  See Ed Yong, How the Pandemic Will End, Atlantic (Mar. 25, 2020), https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/how-will-coronavirus-end/608719/.

[2]  See Miriam Jordan, ‘We’re Petrified’: Immigrants Afraid to Seek Medical Care for Coronavirus, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/us/coronavirus-immigrants.html.

[3]  Public Charge, U.S. Citizenship & Servs. [hereinafter Public Charge] (emphasis added), https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/public-charge (last visited Apr. 4, 2020).  There are actually two new public charge rules.  One, which was promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), applies to cases adjudicated by USCIS.  Public Charge, Immigrant Legal Res. Ctr. [hereinafter Immigrant Legal Res. Ctr.], https://www.ilrc.org/public-charge (last visited Apr. 4, 2020).  The other, which was promulgated by the Department of State (“DOS”), applies to cases involving individuals who go through a process outside the United States, at a consulate or embassy, to obtain lawful permanent resident status.  Id.  This article refers to a single “new public charge rule,” since both the DHS rule and the DOS rule are virtually identical.  Id.

[4]  Press Release, Torres: As USCIS Ends Public Charge Rule for Coronavirus Cases, Every American is Safer, Congresswoman Norma Torres (Mar. 16, 2020), https://torres.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/torres-uscis-ends-public-charge-rule-coronavirus-cases-every-american

[5]  See Tara Siegel Bernard & Ron Lieber, F.A.Q. on Stimulus Checks, Unemployment and the Coronavirus Plan, N.Y. Times (Apr. 3, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-stimulus-package-questions-answers.html.  These cash payments are known by different names, including “economic impact payments,” “recovery rebates,” and “stimulus checks.”  Libby Kane & Tanza Loudenback, Everything We Know About the Coronavirus Stimulus Checks that Will Pay Many Americans Up to $1,200 Each, Bus. Insider (Apr. 3, 2020), https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/coronavirus-stimulus-check-questions-answers-2020-4.

[6]  See Understanding the Impact of Key Provisions of COVID-19 Relief Bills on Immigrant Communities, Nat’l Immigration Law Ctr. 12 (Apr. 1, 2020) [hereinafter Understanding the Impact of Key Provisions], https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID19-relief-bills-understanding-key-provisions.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2yiNB-kyhr-33bQTVp7YcdNBZ4LeBbia6JUIzbGOhf6d1jJYY9Rzgjs_c (explaining the eligibility requirements for CARES Act payments, which include having a valid social security number); see also Monique O. Madan, Millions of Immigrant Families Won’t Get Coronavirus Stimulus Checks, Experts Say, Miami Herald (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/immigration/article241531211.html (“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders would be able to qualify for the money because they are issued Social Security numbers.”).

[7]  See Public Charge, supra note 3 (explaining USCIS’s position as to COVID-19-related testing and treatment, but not CARES Act payments).

[8]  The question of which immigrants are eligible for CARES Act payments is beyond the scope of this article, but the sources cited supra note 6 provide some guidance on this question.

[9]  See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(4)(A) (2018) (“Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.”); 8 C.F.R. § 212.21(a) (2019) (“Public charge means an alien who receives one or more public benefits, as defined in paragraph (b) of this section, for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).”); Immigrant Legal Res. Ctr., supra note 3 (“[Immigration] law says that those who are viewed as likely to become dependent on the government in the future as a ‘public charge’ are inadmissible.”).

[10]  See Immigrant Legal Res. Ctr., supra note 3 (providing basic background of public charge law before the new rule was implemented).

[11]  See 8 C.F.R. § 212.21(b) (listing the benefits that are considered “public benefits” for purposes of the new public charge rule); Immigrant Legal Res. Ctr., supra note 3 (“The rules expand the list of publicly-funded programs that immigration officers may consider when deciding whether someone is likely to become a public charge. Under the new rules, federally-funded Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Section 8 housing assistance and federally subsidized housing will be used as evidence that a green card or visa applicant is inadmissible under the public charge ground.”).

[12]  8 C.F.R. § 212.21.

[13]  Chapter 10 – Public Benefits, U.S. Citizenship and Servs. [hereinafter Chapter 10 – Public Benefits], https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-8-part-g-chapter-10 (last visited Apr. 4, 2020).

[14]  8 C.F.R. § 212.21(b)(1)–(6) (emphasis added).

[15]  See Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, H.R. 748, 116th Con. § 2201 (2020) (providing that the Internal Revenue Code will be amended to state that “[i]n the case of an eligible individual, there shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by subtitle A for the first taxable year beginning in 2020 an amount equal to the sum of—(1) $1,200 ($2,400 in the case of eligible individuals filing a joint return), plus (2) an amount equal to the product of $500 multiplied by the number of qualifying children (within the meaning of section 24(c)) of the taxpayer”) (emphasis added); see also Kane & Loudenback, supra note 5 (“The payment . . . is technically an advance tax credit meant to offset your 2020 federal income taxes.”) (emphasis added).

[16]  See H.R. 748 § 2201.

[17]  8 C.F.R. § 212.21(b)(1).

[18]  Chapter 10 – Public Benefits, supra note 13 (“Other benefits not considered public benefits in the public charge inadmissibility determination include, but are not limited to . . . Tax Credits . . . .”) (emphasis added).

[19]  Id. (footnote omitted).

[20]  Public Charge, supra note 3.

[21]  See 8 C.F.R. § 212.22(a) (“The determination of an alien’s likelihood of becoming a public charge at any time in the future must be based on the totality of the alien’s circumstances by weighing all factors that are relevant to whether the alien is more likely than not at any time in the future to receive one or more public benefits, as defined in 8 CFR 212.21(b), for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36–month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).”).

[22]  See Jordan, supra note 2.

By Alexandria Montgomery

As the COVID-19[1] pandemic continues to spread across the United States, a new wave of abortion litigation has reached federal courts. In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, several states—including Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Alabama, and Oklahoma—have attempted to restrict women’s access to abortion procedures under the guise of promoting social distancing and conserving healthcare resources.[2] These temporary abortion bans have most commonly come in the form of an executive order from a state’s governor regarding limitations on non-essential medical procedures.[3] This raises several legal questions. May abortion be considered a “nonessential” medical procedure? Moreover, are these abortion bans constitutional given that they are supposedly only temporary? And finally, does the public interest in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and conserving much-needed personal protective gear (“PPG”) for healthcare professionals outweigh a woman’s constitutional privacy interest in obtaining an abortion?

On Monday, March 30, a federal judge halted a temporary abortion ban in Texas.[4] Texas Governor Greg Abbott had issued an executive order (“Executive Order GA-09”) on March 22 that required all health care professionals and facilities to postpone  “all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who without immediate performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death . . . .”[5]

The next day, the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, issued a press release clarifying that the that the Executive Order GA-09 prohibited “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or the health of the mother.”[6] Of note, the Attorney General’s interpretation, which explicitly prohibited “any type” of abortion, would not only ban surgical abortions, but medication abortions as well—despite the fact that medication abortions do not require any type of surgery or procedure. The Attorney General’s interpretation also made clear that those who did not comply with Executive Order GA-09 could face criminal “penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.”[7]

Several abortion providers (collectively, “Planned Parenthood”) quickly filed a constitutional challenge against the Governor and state officials seeking a temporary restraining order against both the Texas Attorney General’s interpretation of Executive Order GA 09 and the Order itself.  In granting the temporary restraining order, which prohibits Texas from enforcing Executive Order GA-09 as applied to any type of abortion, the court made several determinations.

First, the court stated in no uncertain terms that, “[r]egarding a woman’s right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion, the Supreme Court has spoken clearly. There can be no outright ban on such procedure.” Indeed, for nearly half a century, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and emphatically held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment includes a right of privacy that protects a woman’s right to make the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy at any point prior to viability.[8] Before the point of viability, “a state has no interest sufficient to justify an outright ban on abortion.”[9] In other words, although states may regulate pre-viability abortions, they may not outright ban them.[10]

The court, however, also addressed several factors that are specific to this unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Texas and some other states have attempted to classify “any type” of abortion as nonessential, abortion is a time-sensitive procedure.[11] Many states such as Texas have placed gestational limits on when a woman may legally obtain an abortion.[12] Because of these limits, even a temporary ban on abortion would allow some women’s pregnancies to progress to a point at which it would no longer be legal to obtain an abortion, effectively stripping some patients of their constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.[13]

Moreover, it has always been and will continue to be the case that restricted access to abortion services disproportionately impacts low-income women. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the most common reasons that abortion patients provided for choosing to terminate a pregnancy included the inability to afford raising a child and the belief that continuing the pregnancy would interfere with their ability to work.[14]  And now, in the midst of a pandemic that has already wreaked havoc on the United States economy, the risks of requiring someone to continue an unwanted pregnancy are perhaps even greater.[15] In only a two week time-span, unemployment insurance claims in the United States have increased a shocking 1500%.[16] Labor economists estimate that potentially 14 million workers will lose their jobs due to the pandemic by the summer.[17] In the face of such severe economic distress, it is vital now more than ever that women are able to make deeply personal decisions relating to whether they are in a position to bring a dependent child into the world.

Finally, the court noted that because of the pandemic, travelling to other states to obtain an abortion is increasingly risky.[18] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that travelling, even within the United States, may increase the possibility of contracting COVID-19.[19]  Accordingly, the court determined that allowing medical providers to resume abortion services would not disserve the public interest.[20] Any benefits of conserving a limited amount of PPG for healthcare providers is outweighed by the harm of allowing a state to ban abortions outright.[21] A woman’s constitutional right must take precedence, especially when paired with the unfortunate current economic circumstances and the increased health risks that travelling to other states to obtain an abortion would pose. In short, a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion continues to survive, even in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.


[1] COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). See Naming the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and the Virus That Causes It, World Health Org., https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it (last visited Apr. 1, 2020).

[2] See Kate Smith, Abortion in Texas will resume, despite attorney general orders, CBS News (Mar. 30, 2020, 06:47 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-abortion-ban-halted-federal-judge/.

[3] See, e.g., Tex. Exec. Order No. GA-09 (Mar. 22, 2020), https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/EO-GA_09_COVID-19_hospital_capacity_IMAGE_03-22-2020.pdf (prohibiting nonessential surgeries and medical procedures in Texas).

[4] See Smith, supra note 2. In recent days, federal judges have also enjoined similar COVID-19-related abortion bans in both Ohio and Alabama. See Ema O’Connor, Judges Struck Down Three State Bans On Abortions During The Coronavirus Outbreak (Mar. 31, 2010, 10:53), https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/emaoconnor/judge-struck-down-abortion-ban-texas-coronavirus.

[5] See Tex. Exec. Order No. GA-09, supra note 3.

[6] See Press Release, Ken Paxton, Attorney Gen. of Tex., Health Care Professionals and Facilities, Including Abortion Providers, Must Immediately Stop All Medically Unnecessary Surgeries and Procedures to Preserve Resources to Fight COVID-19 Pandemic (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/news/releases/health-care-professionals-and-facilities-including-abortion-providers-must-immediately-stop-all.

[7] See id.

[8] See Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 879 (declaring that a state’s regulation is an unconstitutional “undue burden” if the regulation’s “purpose or effect is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 170 (1973); see also Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 136 S. Ct. 2292, 2300 (2016) (reaffirming the central holdings of Roe and Casey that prior to the point of viability, the state may not unduly burden a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion).

[9] Planned Parenthood Ctr. for Choice v. Abbott, No. A-20-CV-323-LY, slip op. at 6 (W.D. Tex. filed Mar. 30, 2020) (citing Roe, 410 U.S. at 163–64)

[10] See id.  

[11] See Abortion & COVID-19, Nat’l Abortion Federation, https://prochoice.org/abortion-covid-19/ (last visited Mar. 30, 2020).

[12] See Abbott, slip op. at 7 (citing Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 171.044 (West 2017)) (explaining that Texas bans abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization).

[13] See id.

[14] See Rachel K. Jones et al., Guttmacher Inst., Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008, at 7, 9 (2010) (“Poor women were overrepresented among abortion patients.”).

[15] See Abbott, slip op. at 8.

[16] See Heidi Shierholz, Unemployment Insurance Claims Jumped Nearly 1,500% in Two Weeks, Econ. Policy Inst. (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.epi.org/press/unemployment-insurance-claims-jumped-nearly-1500-in-two-weeks-i-have-been-a-labor-economist-for-a-very-long-time-and-have-never-seen-anything-like-this/ (stating that there were 3.3 million unemployment insurance claims in the week before March 26).

[17] See id.

[18] See Abbott, slip. op. at 8.

[19] See Coronavirus and Travel in the United States, Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-in-the-us.html (last updated Mar. 30, 2020). Although the CDC does not typically issue domestic travel restrictions or advisories, it has now issued a travel advisory urging the residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut “to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days” due to the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in these states. See id.

[20] See Abbott, slip. op. at 8.

[21] See id.