A Legal Primer on Oklahoma’s Communicable Disease, Quarantine, and Isolation Laws
Mike Davis!
Question presented: Are Oklahoma mayors acting within their legal authority when they force
businesses to limit person to person contact, or to close altogether, to control the spread of an infectious
disease? !
Legal Analysis: The short answer is yes. !
Under normal circumstances, local health ocials are authorized to quarantine anyone with
“a#communicable disease of public health concern.” 63 OKLA. STAT. § 63-1-504 (2019). The State Board
of Health is given broad authority over “regulation of public meetings and gatherings in epidemic
situations.” id. Courts are also empowered to enforce quarantines with injunctions and restraining orders.
63 OKLA. STAT. § 63-1-502 (2019). These statutes alone do not authorize a mayor to take such actions,
but they do establish that such actions are within the purview of government ocials. !
The Oklahoma Emergency Management Act of 2003 (OEMA) authorizes the governor and city mayors to
declare an emergency. 63 OKLA. STAT. §63-683.1 (2019). It authorizes “the creation of local organizations
for emergency management in the counties and incorporated municipalities of this state,” and confers
“upon the Governor and upon the executive heads or governing bodies of the political subdivisions of the
state the emergency powers provided by the Oklahoma Emergency Management Act.” 63 OKLA. STAT.
§63-683.2 (2019).#The governor is empowered to direct and control “the conduct of civilians and the
movement of and cessation of movement of pedestrians and vehicular trac during, prior and
subsequent to natural and man-made disasters and emergencies,” ”public meetings or gatherings,” and
”the evacuation and reception of the civil population.” The governor is also empowered to delegate his
emergency powers, and to authorize sub-delegation. See 63 OKLA. STAT. § 63-683.8 (2019).!
The OEMA requires each political subdivision to create emergency management organizations, and
appoint directors who report directly to the chief executive or the chief operating ocer of the
subdivision. Subdivisions are required to develop and disseminate an emergency plan, and to coordinate
with state agencies. 63 OKLA. STAT. § 63-683.11 (2019).“Each local organization for emergency
management shall perform emergency management functions within the territorial limits of the political
subdivisions within which it is organized.” id. !
There is broad power delegated to political subdivisions in cases of emergency. For instance in Tulsa,
following a list of specific enumerated powers, including the power to cut o all sales of alcohol and to
suspend the sale of gasoline, the city ordinances give the mayor the power to make "[s]uch other orders
as are imminently necessary for the protection of life and property." Tulsa Rev. Ord. Tit. 8, Sec. 202.
Oklahoma City has an even longer list of activities that can be restricted, but the list once again
concludes with broad language. The mayor may prohibit “such other activities as he reasonably believes
should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.” Oklahoma
City Code 15-36. !
All government action is subject to judicial review, so a court could review whether the declaration of an
emergency was necessary, and whether the actions taken were reasonable in light of the situation at
hand. However, courts are likely to give added deference to state and local ocials who have even a
colorable belief that what they were doing was in furtherance of public health and safety. There is a long
tradition, stretching back to the common law, of courts giving wide latitude in emergency situations.
Oklahoma statutes are littered with language limiting or disclaiming civil liability for both public and
private actors in times of emergency. !
No opinion is oered here as to whether current events warrant emergency declarations, much less
whether the specific provisions invoked are wise. It is merely a guide to the source of such emergency
1401 N. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK 73104