As you are likely aware, if you are a Mecklenburg County, North Carolina resident, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners and the Mayor of Charlotte issued a Shelter in Place proclamation, (hereinafter referred to as “Order”) that went into effect this morning, on March 26, 2020 at 8:00 AM and which shall remain in effect until April 16, 2020. However, the language of the Order states that the proclamation will be “regularly reviewed and evaluated and may be revised, amended, extended accordingly, based upon existing evidence and recommendations by the Public Health Director and City of Charlotte Office of Emergency Management.” The intention of the Order is stated therein, “This Proclamation is to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent possible.”
Where Does Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte Derive Their Authority to Close Businesses and Tell My Family and I to Stay Home For 3 Weeks?
It is true that pursuant to the Order you’re basically required to remain in your home outside the limited exceptions provided in the Order for things like, but not limited to buying groceries, walking your dog, caring for elderly family members, putting gas in your car and performing work in an essential profession like healthcare. While the Order is fairly restrictive, it appears on its face to be lawful. Mecklenburg County in conjunction with the City of Charlotte and six towns within Mecklenburg County (Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius, Davidson, Pineville and Huntersville) signed a Joint Declaration of Emergency on March 13, 2020 as authorized by the North Carolina Emergency Management Act, N.C. Gen Stat. §166A-19.22.
Authority From the North Carolina General Assembly
According to N.C. Gen Stat. §166A-19.22(d)- “the declaration of a state of emergency pursuant to this section shall activate the local ordinances authorized in G.S. 166A-19.31…” N.C. Gen Stat. §166A-19.31 provides authority to North Carolina counties and municipalities to enact ordinances designed to permit the imposition of prohibitions and restrictions within the emergency area during a state of emergency declared pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §166A-19.22. N.C. Gen Stat. §166A-19.31(b)(1)(d) authorizes North Carolina counties and municipalities to enact ordinances that control the movement of persons within their areas of jurisdiction after they have declared a state of emergency pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §166A-19.22. Additionally, N.C. Gen Stat. §166A-19.31(b)(2) permits North Carolina counties and municipalities to issue prohibitions and restrictions “on the operation of offices, business establishments, and other places to or from which people may travel or at which they may congregate.”
Authority From the Mecklenburg County State of Emergency Ordinance
Article 2, Section 8 of the Mecklenburg County State of Emergency Ordinance vests authority in the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to prohibit or restrict the movement of people in public places, prohibit or restrict the operation of offices, business establishments, and other places to or from which people may travel or at which they may congregate; and to prohibit or restrict other activities or conditions, the control of which may be reasonably necessary to maintain order and protect lives or property during the state of emergency, within the area designated in the proclamation.
How Long Can The Restrictions of the Order Remain in Place?
N.C. Gen Stat. §166A-19.31(e) states that the expiration of prohibitions and restrictions shall occur at the earliest of: (1) the prohibition or restriction is terminated by the official or entity that imposed the prohibition or restriction or (2) the state of emergency is terminated.
What Can Happen If I Get Caught Violating the Order?
The Order states near its conclusion that “any person violating any prohibition or restriction imposed by this proclamation as authorized by the Joint Proclamation of State of Emergency shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor in accordance with G.S. 14-288.20A.” Article 2, Section 17 of the Mecklenburg County State of Emergency Ordinance states “any person violating any prohibition or restriction imposed by a proclamation authorized by this Ordinance shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor in accordance with G.S. 14-288.20A. N.C. Gen Stat. §14-288.20A provides that any person who violates any provision of an ordinance or a declaration enacted or declared pursuant to G.S. 166A-19.31 is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. In North Carolina, the maximum penalty for a Class 2 misdemeanor is 60 days in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. While this may concern you, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) Deputy Chief Jeff Estes stated in reference to enforcement of the Order, “we’re going to manage it through voluntary compliance, dialogue, and cooperation from community members.” “Our enforcement efforts will be complaint-driven.”
Key Sections of the Mecklenburg County Shelter in Place Order
The Order states that when people need to leave their homes for authorized reasons, that they should at all times reasonably comply with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations of Social Distancing at least six (6) feet apart from other people. People, whose homes are unsafe or become unsafe, such as but not limited to being caused by acts of domestic violence, are permitted and urged to leave their homes and stay at a safe alternative location. Homes under the Order include hotels, motels, shared rental units, shelters, and similar facilities. All businesses and operations in the County, except Essential Businesses and Operations are to cease all activities within the County except minimum basic operations. Businesses may continue operations consisting exclusively of employees or contractors performing activities from their homes. All public and private gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, except gatherings of members of a household or residence of 10 people or more are not prohibited. There are specific restrictions on visiting residents of nursing homes, including but not limited to the prohibition of people with symptoms of COVID-19 or people who have been in contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and that CDC approved social distancing must be observed during authorized visits. All travel except for authorized purposes is prohibited. You can walk your dog; leave your house to obtain medical care, medical supplies, medication, or visit a health care professional for medical services that cannot be provided virtually. You can leave your house to get necessary household supplies, supplies to work from home, engage in outdoor activity like walking, hiking, golfing, running, cycling, while observing CDC approved social distancing, however playgrounds are closed. You can leave your house to care for a family friend, friend, or pet in another household and to transport family members, friends or pets as allowed by the order. Essential Businesses include stores that sell groceries, pet supplies, food, beverage, and agriculture, organizations that provide charitable and social services, media, gas stations and businesses needed for transportation, banks, hardware and supply stores, critical trades, mail, post, shipping, logistics, delivery, and pick-up services, schools for faculty only to facilitate distance learning, laundry services, restaurants for consumption off-premises, supplies to work from home, supplies for essential businesses and operations, transportation, home-based care and services, residential facilities and shelters, professional services, childcare centers for specific employees exempted by the Order, such as healthcare workers, manufacture, distribution and supply chain, hotels and motels, and funeral services.
Contact Biazzo Law, PLLC for Assistance
If you are a Charlotte or Mecklenburg County resident or visitor and you have concerns regarding your legal rights during this uncertain time, contact Biazzo Law, a Charlotte and South Florida law firm at (561) 939-6300 for a consultation today. This blog is not to be construed as legal advice