UPDATE: Before Midnight Expiration, Courts Order Continuation of Unemployment Benefits, Appeals Continue

Pretrial
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A second Maryland court has issued an order requiring the Hogan administration to maintain expanded federal unemployment benefits that were due to expire at midnight.

Early on Saturday, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring the state’s continued participation in the program. Around 7:30 p.m., the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court, entered an order allowing the restraining order to remain in place.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said shortly after 8 p.m. that the administration plans an appeal to the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, before midnight.

The temporary restraining order was first entered by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill around 10 a.m. Saturday.

The action will, at least temporarily, maintain benefits for those who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks, and $300 payments to workers who haven’t historically qualified for benefits including independent contractors and gig workers.

About 85% of Marylanders currently receiving unemployment benefits fall into one of those categories.

The judge’s order comes after a flurry of legal activity over the past week.

On Friday afternoon, Fletcher-Hill heard arguments in two cases challenging Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s decision to end the expanded federal benefits in July. Congress funded the expanded program with federal stimulus money through early September; Maryland is one of about two dozen states where governors moved to end the program early.

In his opinion released Saturday morning, Fletcher-Hill wrote that he agreed the plaintiffs in the case would suffer immediate harm if a restraining order weren’t issued.

“In its global scope and in the anxiety that almost all people experience over the threat of disease, the impact of the pandemic has been universal, but the brief stories of these Plaintiffs reminds the Court that the impact of the pandemic has been cruelly uneven,” he wrote. “Some have suffered death or debilitating illness themselves, in their families, or among their friends. Others have experienced severe economic hardship from involuntary unemployment or the inability to work because of the need to take on childcare and elder care responsibilities. As one who has enjoyed the privilege of continuous, secure employment, the Court is particularly struck by the plight of those who have had to struggle with irregular or no employment.”

The temporary restraining order issued Saturday will remain in effect until July 13. The court expects to hold a hearing on a longer-term injunction before then.

The Hogan administration vowed Saturday afternoon to appeal the ruling. “There is a record number of jobs available right now, and this program is making it harder to fill them and fully reopen our businesses. It’s hurting our recovery across every region and industry,” spokesman Michael Ricci said Saturday afternoon.

The case was appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. Around 7:30 p.m., that court issued the order of a three-judge panel agreeing with the Circuit Court, and denying the Hogan administration’s motion to set aside the temporary restraining order.

The state of Maryland formally filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals around 9 p.m. on Saturday night. No orders from the highest court were made publicly available before midnight. Without intervention, the lower court’s restraining order remains in place and Marylanders are expected to continue receiving the enhanced federal unemployment benefits.

Read the Baltimore City Circuit Court opinion.

Read the Baltimore City Circuit Court judge’s order.

Read the Court of Special Appeals order.

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This breaking news story will be updated. 

Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines covered government and politics for Maryland Matters for two years before moving into an editing position. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post ― as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at The Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.