Last week, a group of plaintiffs filed a complaint against federal agencies (including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) challenging the federal government’s handling of information reporting related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs include a public charter school, a non-profit health and housing group, a New York City councilmember, and a medical student. According to the complaint, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019 mandated the creation of a “biosurveillance network” to provide information on the progress of public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, but the agencies tasked with creating and maintaining the network have failed to carry out their biosurveillance duties, failing to adequately report information, and failing to involve the public in policymaking decisions (as required by the law):
In sum, Congress designated the Federal government to be the very body that coordinates the data collection and reporting necessary so that Congress, local governments, the public and Plaintiffs can mitigate public health risks effectively and efficiently. But now that the time has come, the Federal government is failing to do so. Instead, Defendants react to the pandemic by shifting their responsibilities to local governments and private entities, refusing to empower the public with information and access it needs, and shutting their doors to experienced input that would produce a more resilient response. In so doing, Defendants unlawfully withhold and unreasonably delay the numerous duties mandated by Congress—duties that are always present, but are expanded and amplified during a public health emergency. The law is clear, however, these duties are mandatory: the Plaintiffs and the public are entitled to the information and participation that Congress granted to them and that Defendants are unlawfully withholding.
The complaint contends that the defendants acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary to law when failing to carry out these required duties, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), and includes causes of action for declaratory and injunctive relief under the APA.
The case is assigned to Judge Marrero.