Should the Government Seize the Inventories of Medical Supply Speculators?

Newsreaders today learned of the problem of Matt Colvin of Tennessee. When hand sanitizer started to run out on March 1st, he drove across Tennessee and Alabama clearing out any remaining last bottles from store shelves. His plan was to sell it for a profit, and did so on Amazon and eBay until they shut him down. Now he has over 17,000 bottles he can’t get rid of. My question is why doesn’t the government just commandeer or requisition his supply and redistribute it?

It is common when the government declares a State of Emergency for a clause to be added granting the civilian authority the power to commandeer or requisition private property. See, for example, the recent declaration of emergency that the governor of California signed. That declaration provided: “The California Health and Human Services Agency and the Office of

Emergency Services shall identify, and shall otherwise be prepared to make available-including through the execution of any necessary contracts or other agreements and, if necessary, through the exercise of the State’s power to commandeer property – hotels and other places of temporary residence, medical facilities, and other facilities that are suitable for use as places of temporary residence or medical facilities as necessary for quarantining, isolating, or treating individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or who have had a high-risk exposure and are thought to be in the incubation period.”

Of course, the U.S. Constitution requires that just compensation be paid, but this doesn’t require the $70 per bottle that Matt Colvin was hoping to receive. According to the news article, Mr. Colvin and his brother took a 1,300 mile road trip filling a U-Haul trailer with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes. Most of the big box stores had already been cleaned out, but the two men found bottles still for sale in “little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods.”  I am sure the stores themselves could have jacked up the price, but they would not want to be accused of price gouging. But is what Mr. Colvin doing any less wrong?

It was pretty clear to everyone on March 1st that the coronavirus posed a serious threat to members of the public, particularly those of us with compromised immune systems or persons of advanced age. I am sure at this point Mr. Colvin regrets his decision. Maybe he could sell the bottles on the street corner at cost. According to the news article, Mr. Colvin is one of dozens of sellers who have horded medical supplies. In addition to hand sanitizer, other medical supplies such as masks are in short supply, yet are being sold online for 10 times the going rate. In the age of COVID 19, more steps should be taken to curtail such abuses. What do you think? Share your comment below.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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