Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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In November 2021, the Secretary of Health and Human Services issued an interim rule that requires facilities that provide health care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to ensure that their staff, unless exempt for medical or religious reasons, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 86 Fed. Reg. 61,555. Under the rule, covered staff must request an exemption or receive their first dose of a two-dose vaccine or a single-dose vaccine by December 6, 2021. Florida unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction to bar the interim rule’s enforcement.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the denial of the motion, first deciding not to apply the mootness doctrine and to exercise jurisdiction despite another district court’s issuance of a nationwide injunction. Florida failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood that it will prevail on the merits, that it will suffer irreparable injury absent an injunction, or that the balance of the equities favors an injunction. The Secretary has express statutory authority to require facilities voluntarily participating in the Medicare or Medicaid programs to meet health and safety standards to protect patients. The Secretary provided a detailed explanation for why there was good cause for dispensing with the notice-and-comment requirement. Ample evidence supports the Secretary’s determination that facility staff vaccination will provide important protection for patients. View "State of Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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A 16-year-old high school student and her parents filed an emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal, seeking to enjoin the school district from requiring compliance with a student vaccination mandate. The Ninth Circuit granted plaintiffs' motion in part. The court ordered that an injunction shall be in effect only while a "per se" deferral of vaccination is available to pregnant students under the school district's student vaccination mandate, and that the injunction shall terminate upon removal of the per se deferral option for pregnant students. Defendants then filed a letter and supporting declaration explaining that the deferral option for pregnant students has been removed from the mandate. Given the removal of the per se deferral option for pregnant students, the injunction issued in the November 28, 2021 order has terminated under its own terms.The Ninth Circuit issued an order providing its reasoning for why an injunction pending appeal is not warranted as to the now-modified student vaccination mandate. The court concluded that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success in showing that the district court erred in applying rational basis review, as opposed to strict scrutiny, to the student vaccination mandate. The court explained that plaintiffs' emergency motion fails to raise a serious question as to whether the vaccination mandate is not neutral and generally applicable; plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success in showing that the district court erred by applying rational basis review; and plaintiffs do not argue that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their free exercise claim if rational basis review applies. The court also concluded that plaintiffs have not carried their burden of establishing that they will suffer irreparable harm if this court does not issue an injunction, or that the public interest weighs in their favor. View "Doe v. San Diego Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted the Texas Attorney General a stay pending appeal of the permanent injunction that bars him from enforcing Texas Governor Greg Abbott's Executive Order GA-38, which prohibits local governmental entities from imposing mask mandates.After determining that plaintiffs have likely failed to demonstrate standing, the court concluded that the Attorney General has demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits as a matter of law. In this case, the district court lacked jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims where plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Furthermore, even if a failure to exhaust remedies does not bar plaintiffs' claims, plaintiffs likely failed to make out a prima facie case under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act. The court explained that, given the availability of vaccines, voluntary masking, and other possible accommodations, the record before the court likely does not support the conclusion that a mask mandate would be both necessary and obvious under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The court also held that it was likely erroneous for the district court to hold that GA-38 was preempted by either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. To the extent that it is even properly before the court, the court did not read the American Rescue Plan Act to preempt GA-38's prohibition of local mask mandates, as the district court did. The court further concluded that, assuming plaintiffs' claims are otherwise viable, at a minimum, the district court's blanket injunction prohibiting the enforcement of GA-38 in all public schools across the State of Texas is overbroad. Finally, the court concluded that the Attorney General has demonstrated the prospect of irreparable injury absent a stay; has shown that maintaining the status quo ante pending appeal will not risk substantial injury to plaintiffs; and that the public interest favors a stay. View "E.T. v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Teachers and school administrators challenge the denial of motions to preliminarily enjoin the enforcement of an order issued by the New York City Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene mandating that individuals who work in New York City schools be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.The Second Circuit concluded that the Vaccine Mandate does not violate the First Amendment on its face. However, the court concluded that plaintiffs have established their entitlement to preliminary relief on the narrow ground that the procedures employed to assess their religious accommodation claims were likely constitutionally infirm as applied to them. The court explained that the Accommodation Standards as applied here were neither neutral nor generally applicable to plaintiffs, and thus the court applied a strict scrutiny analysis at this stage of the proceeding. The court concluded that these procedures cannot survive strict scrutiny because denying religious accommodations based on the criteria outlined in the Accommodation Standards, such as whether an applicant can produce a letter from a religious official, is not narrowly tailored to serve the government's interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's orders denying preliminary relief and concurred with and continued the interim relief granted by the motions panel as to these fifteen individual plaintiffs. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Kane v. De Blasio" on Justia Law

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In this vaccination dispute, the First Circuit denied the motion brought by Appellants seeking an injunction pending appeal, holding that Appellants were not entitled to the injunction.Appellants, eight employees of Mass General Brigham, Inc. (MGB), challenged MGB's application of its mandatory vaccination policy to them individually. The policy was issued in June 2021 requiring all MGB employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualified for a medical or religious exemption. After Appellants' requests for exemptions were denied and they still refused to get vaccinated, MGB placed them on unpaid leave. Appellants sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that MGB unlawfully denied their individual exemption requests. The district court denied Appellants' motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have required Appellants' reinstatement from unpaid leave status. The First Circuit denied Appellants' motion for injunction pending appeal, holding that adequate legal remedies foreclosed injunctive relief. View "Together Employees v. Mass General Brigham Inc." on Justia Law

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This case concerns OSHA's November 5, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring employees of covered employers to undergo COVID-19 vaccination or take weekly COVID-19 tests and wear a mask.The Fifth Circuit granted petitioners' motion for a stay pending review, holding that the Nken factors favored a stay. The court concluded that petitioners' challenges to the Mandate are likely to succeed on the merits. The court stated that, on the dubious assumption that the Mandate does pass constitutional muster, it is nonetheless fatally flawed on its own terms. The court wrote that the Mandate's strained prescriptions combine to make it the rare government pronouncement that is both overinclusive (applying to employers and employees in virtually all industries and workplaces in America, with little attempt to account for the obvious differences between the risks facing, say, a security guard on a lonely night shift, and a meatpacker working shoulder to shoulder in a cramped warehouse) and underinclusive (purporting to save employees with 99 or more coworkers from a "grave danger" in the workplace, while making no attempt to shield employees with 98 or fewer coworkers from the very same. The court found that promulgation of the Mandate grossly exceeds OSHA's statutory authority and found arguments to the contrary unavailing.The court also concluded that it is clear that denial of petitioners' proposed stay would do them irreparable harm where the Mandate threatens to substantially burden the liberty interests of reluctant individuals, companies, and the States. In contrast, the court stated that a stay will do OSHA no harm whatsoever. Finally, the court concluded that a stay is firmly in the public interest. View "BST Holdings, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration" on Justia Law

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New York’s “Prevention of COVID-19 transmission” Rule, issued in August 2021, directs hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, adult care facilities, and other healthcare entities to “continuously require” certain employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It establishes a medical exemption to the requirement, but—consistent with New York’s prior vaccination requirements for healthcare workers—does not include an exemption based on religious belief. The Rule permits, but does not require, employers to make other accommodations for individuals who choose not to be vaccinated based on their sincere religious beliefs.The plaintiffs, primarily healthcare workers, challenged the Rule, claiming that being vaccinated would violate their religious beliefs because the vaccines were developed or produced using cell lines derived from cells obtained from voluntarily aborted fetuses. One district court enjoined the Rule insofar as it prevented healthcare workers from being eligible for a religious exemption; the other denied relief.The Second Circuit rejected the Plaintiffs’ claims. With respect to the Free Exercise claim, they have not established that they are likely to prove that the Rule is not a neutral law of general applicability or that it does not satisfy rational basis review. Nor have they demonstrated a likelihood of success on their Supremacy Clause claim; they have not shown that it would likely be impossible for employers to comply with both the Rule and Title VII. The Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on their claim that the Rule contravenes the Fourteenth Amendment. View "We The Patriots USA, Inc. v. Hochul" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the rulings of the district court denying the Commission of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaints against her, holding that Plaintiffs' allegations of error were without merit.Plaintiffs were (1) a class of individuals who claimed to have been held against their will without due process on the basis of a certification of their need for emergency mental health treatment, and (2) a group of hospitals who claimed to have been forced to retain persons certified to be in need of such treatment. The Commissioner moved to dismiss the claims based on Eleventh Amendment immunity and Plaintiffs' asserted lack of standing. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no merit to the Commissioner's challenges to the district court's standing and Eleventh Amendment immunity rulings. View "Doe v. Shibinette" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellants' request for a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of a regulation promulgated by Maine's Center for Disease Control requiring all workers in licensed healthcare facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19, holding that the district court did not err.Under Maine law, a healthcare worker may claim an exemption from the vaccination requirement only if a medical practitioner certifies that vaccination "may be medically inadvisable." Appellants - several Maine healthcare workers and a healthcare provider - brought this action alleging that the vaccination requirement violated their rights under 42 U.S.C. 1985 and the Free Exercise Clause, Supremacy Clause, and Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court denied Appellants' motion for a preliminary injunction. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that Appellants were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. View "Does v. Mills" on Justia Law

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Western Michigan University, a public university, requires student-athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but considers individual requests for medical and religious exemptions on a discretionary basis. Sixteen student-athletes applied for religious exemptions. The University ignored or denied their requests and barred them from participating in any team activities. The student-athletes sued, alleging that University officials violated their free exercise rights.The district court preliminarily enjoined the officials from enforcing the vaccine mandate against the plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit declined to stay the injunction and proceedings in the district court pending appeal. The court called the issue “a close call” but concluded the free exercise challenge will likely succeed on appeal. The University’s vaccine mandate does not coerce a non-athlete to get vaccinated against her faith because she, as a non-athlete, cannot play intercollegiate sports either way. The mandate does penalize a student otherwise qualified for intercollegiate sports by withholding the benefit of playing on the team should she refuse to violate her sincerely held religious beliefs. The court applied strict scrutiny and reasoned that the University did not establish a compelling interest in denying an exception to the plaintiffs or that its conduct was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. View "Dahl v. Board of Trustees of Western Michigan University" on Justia Law