The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington recently denied a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in a pending challenge to Washington’s COVD-19 vaccine mandates, Wise v. Inslee, No. 2:21-CV-0288-TOR, 2021 WL 4951571, at *7 (D. Wa. Oct. 25, 2021). (A copy of the Court’s order can be accessed here.)

Case Background

The Wise plaintiffs are challenging Governor Jay Inslee’s series of proclamations that mandate COVID-19 vaccination for educators, health care workers, and various state employees and contractors except for those who may be entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), and other applicable state or federal antidiscrimination law. They claim that: the proclamations violate the federal and state constitutions and the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights; the defendants violated the ADA and Washington’s antidiscrimination law; and they have suffered negligent infliction of mental-emotional distress and battery as a result of the proclamations.

The Ruling

The Court determined that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as required for their alleged ADA claim; declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ state law claims; and ruled as follows on the plaintiffs’ arguments based on the federal constitution.

No Likelihood of Success on the Merits

The Court found that the plaintiffs are not likely to succeed in their constitutionality challenge. Id. at *2-5. After observing that “[t]he Supreme Court has long endorsed state and local government authority to impose compulsory vaccines” and that the proclamations are facially neutral, the Court declined to find the proclamations unconstitutional. Id. at *2-4. “[T]he State has a legitimate government interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19.” Id. at *3; see also id. at *5.

Lack of Irreparable Harm

The Court also determined that the plaintiffs failed to establish that they were likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction. Id. at *5. First, they were not entitled to any presumption of irreparable harm for alleging a constitutional violation because they failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits on their constitutional claims. Second, “loss of employment does not constitute irreparable harm.” Id. at *6. Third, the plaintiffs’ delay in instituting their action and filing their motion cut against any claim of irreparable harm by plaintiffs.

Public Interest

Finally, the Court concluded that the balance of equities heavily favored the defendants. The Court observed that several courts already recognized that “the public interest in reducing the dangers and spread of COVID-19 would not be served by enjoining the [proclamations].” Id. at *6. Vaccine mandates, as recognized by the Court, are supported by “overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective” and evidence that vaccination is necessary to protect vulnerable populations of individuals who cannot get vaccinated. Id. at *3. “[E]vidence-backed decisions of the government regarding public health and safety measures” outweigh the “personal beliefs and accommodation preferences” of plaintiffs who disagree with those mandates. Id. at *6.

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