Legal organizations ask Chief Justice for statewide halt to eviction and debt collection court proceedings during COVID-19 public health emergency

Letter sent to Chief Justice Mike Heavican

Letter sent to Chief Justice Mike Heavican

Today, organizations involved in representing low-income tenants and debtors in Nebraska courts (listed below) requested the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court to order a statewide halt to eviction and debt collection court proceedings immediately.  These organizations are asking Chief Justice Mike Heavican to impose an immediate statewide moratorium on eviction and consumer (non-family support) debt collection proceedings due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The sake of public health requires all to act swiftly and decisively to slow the spread of the virus and mitigate the devastation it will cause, and this action is both necessary and in the broader public interest.

As of today, at least nine states across the country and multiple large cities have ordered moratoriums or enacted similar measures to temporarily stop evictions, and the Federal Housing Administration is implementing an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages for the next 60 days.

It is imperative that the Nebraska Supreme Court act similarly to insure the safety and well-being of the general public, and order a statewide temporary and immediate moratorium on evictions and debt collection actions. Unlike the criminal courts, there is no constitutional requirement that Nebraska courts must continue with civil actions like evictions and debt collection cases during a public health emergency.  Such civil matters can be put on hold until the safety and well-being of the general public is no longer at risk.

If eviction and debt collection cases proceed during this pandemic, people who should be social distancing or self-isolating will end up in courtrooms and courthouses in close proximity with numerous other people.  The docket schedule for Friday, March 20, 2020 in both Douglas and Lancaster County Courts —  “cattle calls” as they are informally referred — already lists hundreds of parties ordered to appear in the courthouses at the same time.  If they do not appear, they lose their homes or lose their wages or savings to garnishments.

As almost all parties facing these actions are low-income and/or self-represented, this is particularly troublesome in a time when many Nebraskans are unsure of their employment status. The shuttering of businesses across the state has compounded the already great risk of homelessness faced by low-income Nebraskans as their sources of income quickly evaporate.

This is an emergency.  A statewide moratorium on every aspect of the eviction and debt collection process is necessary to properly curtail the spread of the virus and comply with the Center for Disease Control and NDHHS guidelines.  Without such a moratorium, low-income Nebraskans will continue to receive service of court summonses, travel to their county courthouse on very short notice to protect what little they have, and gather together with dozens if not hundreds facing the same crisis putting themselves- and their entire communities- at great risk. Now is the time for the Court to act.

Signers of Request:
Legal Aid of Nebraska
Nebraska College of Law Civil Clinic
Creighton University School of Law Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic
Nebraska Appleseed
Family Housing Advisory Services
Immigrant Legal Center
Lincoln Commission on Human Rights

Read the letter sent to Chief Justice Mike Heavican here.

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