June 7, 2021

New Mexico Supreme Court: State not required to compensate businesses for public health closures

Andy Lyman

The New Mexico Supreme Court

Businesses that were ordered to close during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic do not have a claim for government compensation, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled.  

The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Shannon Bacon, states that public health orders from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Department of Health did not constitute either a physical or regulatory “taking” of property that would warrant compensation from the state. 

“Occupancy limits and closure of certain categories of businesses, while certainly harsh in their economic effects, are directly tied to the reasonable purpose of limiting the public’s exposure to the potentially life-threatening and communicable disease, and thus can be deemed ‘reasonably necessary,”’ Bacon wrote. 

Before Lujan Grisham’s office asked the high court to take the case, business owners who sought compensation after emergency public health orders forced them to close their doors to the public filed a number of suits around the state in lower courts. Lujan Grisham’s office asked the state supreme court to decide whether a public health order to close businesses constitutes a regulatory taking. 

Another question posed to the court was whether a portion of state law that specifically mentions compensation in public health emergencies applied to all types of businesses or just medical companies. The group of businesses seeking compensation argued that the state Public Health Emergency Response Act’s provision on compensation includes non-medical businesses with the words “any other property.” But the state supreme court seemed to agree with the governor’s office argument that ejusdem generis, or a Latin term meaning of the same kind, applied to the words “any other property,” essentially meaning any other medical or medically related company  taken by the state to help fight a public health emergency. 

“Because a public health emergency can affect the entire population, anyone and everyone could be a potential claimant under the Real Parties’ interpretation, even under far less restrictive measures than the [public health orders],” Bacon wrote. “It is simply not credible that the Legislature in enacting the PHERA intended for such a potential raid on the public wealth while simultaneously granting broad powers to protect the public health.”

Further, the high court also ruled that anyone seeking compensation under PHERA has to first follow the law’s procedure for a claim, which means the claim has to first go through the state Attorney General’s Office. From there appeals could be taken to state district courts.