Federal Appeals Court Revives Lawsuit Against Los Angeles COVID-19 Mandate

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Federal Appeals Court Revives Lawsuit Against Los Angeles COVID-19 Mandate

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit challenging the COVID-19 vaccine mandate enforced by the Los Angeles school district. The court pointed out that the record doesn’t clearly demonstrate whether the vaccines effectively stop the transmission of COVID-19.

The Health Freedom Defense Fund and other challengers of the mandate argued that it violated the due process and equal protection rights of district employees. They claimed that the vaccines, unlike traditional ones, “are not effective” in preventing infection.

U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer disagreed, dismissing the case in 2022. She determined that even if the COVID-19 vaccines do not fully prevent infection, mandates can still be implemented under a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. This is because the vaccines lessen symptoms and mitigate the risk of severe disease and death.

On June 7, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned that decision. They concluded that Judge Fischer extended the 1905 Jacobson v. Massachusetts ruling “beyond its public health rationale—government’s power to mandate prophylactic measures aimed at preventing the recipient from spreading disease to others—to also govern ‘forced medical treatment’ for the recipient’s benefit.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Ryan Nelson, writing for the 2–1 majority, added: “At this stage, we must accept plaintiffs’ allegations that the vaccine does not prevent the spread of COVID-19 as true. And, because of this, Jacobson does not apply.”

That position was reached after lawyers for the defendants provided facts about the vaccines that “do not contradict plaintiffs’ allegations,” he said.

Attorneys representing the district highlighted that a publication from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the COVID-19 vaccines as “safe and effective.” However, they noted that the publication doesn’t provide specific information regarding the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing transmission.

The majority also determined that the case is not moot even though the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) withdrew the mandate in 2023. This action occurred only after the appeals court had already heard arguments in the case, and statements from district board members suggested the mandate might be reinstated later on. In 2021, following legal challenges, the district initially offered employees the choice to undergo regular COVID-19 testing instead of getting vaccinated, but this option was later revoked after another lawsuit was dismissed.

“LAUSD’s pattern of withdrawing and then reinstating its vaccination policies is enough to keep this case alive,” Judge Nelson said. He was joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Daniel Collins.

The ruling sent the case back to Judge Fischer “for further proceedings under the correct legal standard.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Collins said the allegations in the case implicate “the fundamental right to refuse medical treatment,” pointing to more recent Supreme Court rulings, including a 1997 decision in which the court stated that the “‘right of a competent individual to refuse medical treatment’ was ‘entirely consistent with this nation’s history and constitutional traditions,’ in light of ‘the common-law rule that forced medication was a battery, and the long legal tradition protecting the decision to refuse unwanted medical treatment.’”

In a dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins said that the school district “has averred that, absent a very unlikely return to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will not reinstate the policy.”

“Neither the speculative possibility of a future pandemic nor LAUSD’s power to adopt another vaccination policy save this case,” the judge said.

Judges Nelson and Collins were appointed by President Donald Trump, while Judge Hawkins was appointed by President Bill Clinton, and Judge Fischer was appointed by President George W. Bush.