Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, No. CIV 20-0327 JB\SCY

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
Writing for the CourtJames O. Browning, United States District Judge
Citation455 F.Supp.3d 1100
Parties LEGACY CHURCH, INC., Plaintiff, v. Kathyleen M. KUNKEL and the State of New Mexico, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. CIV 20-0327 JB\SCY
Decision Date17 April 2020

455 F.Supp.3d 1100

LEGACY CHURCH, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
Kathyleen M. KUNKEL and the State of New Mexico, Defendants.

No. CIV 20-0327 JB\SCY

United States District Court, D. New Mexico.

Filed April 17, 2020


Colin Hunter, Jordy Stern, The Barnett Law Firm, P.A., Albuquerque, New Mexico, Attorneys for the Plaintiff

Nicholas M. Sydow, Civil Appellate Chief, Office of the New Mexico Attorney General, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Attorneys for Defendant State of New Mexico

Matthew L. Garcia, Chief General Counsel to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Jonathan J. Guss, Deputy General Counsel to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Attorneys for Defendant Kathyleen Kunkel

A. Blair Dunn, Western Agricultural Resource and Business Advocates, LLP, Albuquerque, New Mexico --and-- Mark L. Rienzi, William J. Haun, Peter M. Torstensen, Jr., The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C., Counsel for Amicus Curiae

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

James O. Browning, United States District Judge

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, filed April 14, 2020 (Doc. 8)("Motion"). The Court held hearings on April 13 and 16, 2020. The primary issues are: (i) whether Plaintiff Legacy Church, Inc. ("Legacy Church") is likely to succeed on the merits in demonstrating that Defendant Kathyleen M. Kunkel's Public Health Emergency Order (4-11-20-PHO)("Order"), which restricts places of worship from gathering more than five people within a single room or connected space, violates Plaintiff Legacy Church's rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America; and (ii) whether Legacy Church is slikely to succeed on the merits in demonstrating that the Order violates Legacy Church's rights to peaceably assemble under the First Amendment. The Court concludes that: (i) the Order does not violate Legacy Church's First Amendment religious freedom rights, because the Order is neutral and generally applicable; and (ii) the Order is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction, and so does not violate Legacy Church's

455 F.Supp.3d 1109

First Amendment rights to assemble. Accordingly, the Court denies the Motion.

FINDINGS OF FACT

"A temporary restraining order requires the Court to make predictions about the plaintiff's likelihood of success." Herrera v. Santa Fe Pub. Sch., 792 F. Supp. 2d 1174, 1179 (D.N.M. 2011) (Browning, J.). Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states: "In granting or refusing an interlocutory injunction, the court must [ ] state the findings and conclusions that support its action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a)(2). " ‘[T]he findings of fact and conclusions of law made by a court granting a preliminary injunction are not binding at trial on the merits.’ " Herrera v. Santa Fe Pub. Sch., 792 F. Supp. 2d at 1179 (quoting Attorney Gen. of Okla. v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 565 F.3d 769, 776 (10th Cir. 2009) )(alteration in Herrera v. Santa Fe Public Schools only). See Univ. of Tex. v. Camenisch, 451 U.S. 390, 395, 101 S.Ct. 1830, 68 L.Ed.2d 175 (1981) ("[A] preliminary injunction is customarily granted on the basis of procedures that are less formal and evidence that is less complete than in a trial on the merits."); Firebird Structures, LCC v. United Bhd. of Carpenters and Joiners of Am., Local Union No. 1505, 252 F. Supp. 3d 1132, 1140 (D.N.M. 2017) (Browning, J.). The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit notes "that when a district court holds a hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction it is not conducting a trial on the merits." Heideman v. S. Salt Lake City, 348 F.3d 1182, 1188 (10th Cir. 2003). Moreover, "[t]he Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply to preliminary injunction hearings." Heideman v. S. Salt Lake City, 348 F.3d at 1188. Accordingly, the Court finds as follows:

1. Legacy Church is a Christian church that provides church services at three locations in Bernalillo County and at one location in Santa Fe County. See Plaintiff's Original Complaint, Request for Temporary Restraining Order, and Permanent Injunction ¶ 1, at 1, filed April 11, 2020 (Doc. 1)("Complaint"); Locations/Times, Legacy Church, https://www.legacychurchnm.com/locations/times (last visited April 15, 2020).

2. Legacy Church is a "mega church" with nearly 20,000 church members. Legacy Church Profile, USA Churches, http://www.usachurches.org/church/legacy-church.htm (last visited April 14, 2020). See Coronavirus updates, April 14, Albuquerque J., https://www.abqjournal.com/1443415/coronavirus-updates-april-14.html (last visited April 14, 2020).

3. Legacy Church offers one to three church services each Sunday at its two locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico; at its one location in Rio Rancho, New Mexico; and at its one location in Edgewood, New Mexico. See Locations/Times, Legacy Church, https://www.legacychurchnm.com/locations/times (last visited April 15, 2020).

4. Legacy Church's location at 7201 Central Ave. NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87121 ("Central Campus") has an auditorium that is 31,000 square feet and that holds over 2,500 people. Declaration of Steve Smothermon ¶¶ 5, 7, at 1, filed April 14, 2020 (Doc. 15)("Smothermon Decl.").1

5. Legacy Church's three Sunday services at the Central Campus are aired on broadcast television and live-streamed on Legacy Church's website. See Smothermon Decl. ¶ 7, at 1; T.V. Broadcast, Legacy Church, https://www.legacychurchnm.com/tvbroadcast (last visited April 14, 2020); Live Stream, Legacy Church, https://www.legacychurchnm.com/livestream (last visited April 15, 2020).

455 F.Supp.3d 1110

6. Legacy Church's location at 4701 Wyoming Blvd., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87109 ("East Campus") has an auditorium that is approximately 21,000 square feet. Smothermon Decl. ¶ 11, at 2.

7. Legacy Church's Central Campus also holds a church service on Wednesday nights, and the East Campus holds church services on Tuesday and Saturday nights. See Smothermon Decl. ¶¶ 5-6, at 1.

8. In 2006, Legacy Church established the Legacy Academy, which is a school serving preschool through high school students. See Our Story, Legacy Church, https://www.legacychurchnm.com/our-story (last visited April 15, 2020).

9. Kathyleen M. Kunkel is the Secretary for the New Mexico Department of Health ("Secretary Kunkel"). Complaint ¶ 2, at 1. See Office of the Secretary, New Mexico Department of Health, https://nmhealth.org/about/asd/ots/ (last visited April 14, 2020).

10. Michelle Lujan Grisham is the Governor of the State of New Mexico. See About the Governor, Office of the Governor, https://www.governor.state.nm.us/ (last visited April 15, 2020).

11. In early January, 2020, Wuhan, China experienced an outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19, which is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, also known as SARS-CoV-2. See Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/symptoms-causes/syc-20479963 (last visited April 15, 2020)("Mayo Clinic").

12. The coronavirus is a contagious disease that is spread through respiratory droplets that are released when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or talk. See Mayo Clinic.

13. Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. See Symptoms of Coronavirus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html (last visited April 15, 2020).

14. Approximately eighty percent of people who are infected with the coronavirus experience mild symptoms, but about twenty percent of people suffer more severe symptoms. See Answers To Your Coronavirus Questions at 40, The New York Times, https://static01.nyt.com/files/2020/ebooks/corona-virus-questions/nyt-coronavirus-answers.pdf (last visited April 15, 2020)("NYT Answers").

15. On January 11, 2020, China reported its first death caused by the coronavirus. See NYT Answers at 6-7.

16. In Wuhan, China, of the people who have been infected with coronavirus, the death rate is about two percent. See NYT Answers at 32.

17. On January 20, 2020, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") reported the United States' first case of coronavirus in the State of Washington. First Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States, The New England Journal of Medicine (January 31, 2020), https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2001191 (last visited April 15, 2020).

18. Throughout late January, 2020, and February, 2020, the coronavirus spread to countries throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

19. On February 29, 2020, the United States reported its first death caused by the coronavirus near Seattle, Washington. See Derrick Bryson Taylor, A Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic, The New York Times (April 14, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-timeline.html (last visited April 15, 2020)("NYT Timeline").

455 F.Supp.3d 1111

20. On March 11, 2020, the New Mexico Department of Health reported the first case in which a New Mexico resident tested positive for the coronavirus. See New Mexico Announces First Presumptive...

To continue reading

Request your trial
22 practice notes
  • Hernandez v. Grisham, No. CIV 20-0942 JB\GBW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • October 14, 2020
    ...and the Secretaries argued that this case is much simpler than what the Court had recently faced in Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, 455 F.Supp.3d 1100 (D.N.M. 2020) (Browning, J.). See Tr. at 24:6-18 (Garcia).40. The Court asked the Governor and the Secretaries what their position is on whet......
  • Ass'n of Jewish Camp Operators v. Cuomo, 1:20-CV-0687 (GTS/DJS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • July 6, 2020
    ...warranted given the fact that the restrictions are based on the suppression of the virus. Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel , 20-CV-0327, 455 F.Supp.3d 1100, 1159–60 (D. N.M. 2020) ; S. Bay, 140 S. Ct. at 1613. From the Court's humble perspective, there appears to be more than one reasonable re......
  • Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, No. CIV 20-0327 JB\SCY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • July 13, 2020
    ...a 100-page Memorandum Opinion and Order denying the Legacy Church's request for a temporary restraining order ("TRO"). See TRO MOO, 455 F.Supp.3d 1100, 1108–09. The Court concluded that Legacy Church had not satisfied the exacting standards for injunctive relief on either of its claims. See......
  • Hernandez v. Grisham, No. CIV 20-0942 JB\GBW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • December 18, 2020
    ...a high spread rate of a deadly virus would survive such scrutiny." Second MTD Reply at 5 n.5 (citing Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, 455 F. Supp. 3d 1100, 1142 (D.N.M. 2020) (Browning, J.)(" Legacy I")("[M]itigating a state pandemic is a compelling interest.")). The Defendants argue that the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Hernandez v. Grisham, No. CIV 20-0942 JB\GBW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • October 14, 2020
    ...and the Secretaries argued that this case is much simpler than what the Court had recently faced in Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, 455 F.Supp.3d 1100 (D.N.M. 2020) (Browning, J.). See Tr. at 24:6-18 (Garcia).40. The Court asked the Governor and the Secretaries what their position is on whet......
  • Ass'n of Jewish Camp Operators v. Cuomo, 1:20-CV-0687 (GTS/DJS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • July 6, 2020
    ...warranted given the fact that the restrictions are based on the suppression of the virus. Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel , 20-CV-0327, 455 F.Supp.3d 1100, 1159–60 (D. N.M. 2020) ; S. Bay, 140 S. Ct. at 1613. From the Court's humble perspective, there appears to be more than one reasonable re......
  • Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, No. CIV 20-0327 JB\SCY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • July 13, 2020
    ...a 100-page Memorandum Opinion and Order denying the Legacy Church's request for a temporary restraining order ("TRO"). See TRO MOO, 455 F.Supp.3d 1100, 1108–09. The Court concluded that Legacy Church had not satisfied the exacting standards for injunctive relief on either of its claims. See......
  • Hernandez v. Grisham, No. CIV 20-0942 JB\GBW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • December 18, 2020
    ...a high spread rate of a deadly virus would survive such scrutiny." Second MTD Reply at 5 n.5 (citing Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, 455 F. Supp. 3d 1100, 1142 (D.N.M. 2020) (Browning, J.)(" Legacy I")("[M]itigating a state pandemic is a compelling interest.")). The Defendants argue that the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT