Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

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The Air Force ordered over 500,000 service members to get COVID-19 vaccinations. About 10,000 members requested religious exemptions; about 135 of these requests were granted, only to those planning to leave the service. It has granted thousands of exemptions for medical or administrative reasons. The Plaintiffs allege that the vaccine mandate substantially burdens their religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The district court granted a preliminary injunction that barred the Air Force from disciplining the Plaintiffs for failing to take a vaccine, then certified a class of thousands of similar service members and extended this injunction to the class.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In opposing class-action certification, the Air Force argued that RFRA adopts an individual-by-individual approach: it must show that it has a compelling interest in requiring a “specific” individual to get vaccinated based on that person’s specific duties. In challenging the injunction, however, the Air Force failed to identify the specific duties or working conditions of any Plaintiff, citing the “general interests” underlying the mandate. The court reasoned that it could uphold the injunction based on RFRA alone but also noted common questions for the class: Does the Air Force have a uniform policy of relying on its generalized interests in the vaccine mandate to deny religious exemptions regardless of individual circumstances? Does it have a discriminatory policy of broadly denying religious exemptions but broadly granting secular ones? View "Doster v. Kendall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of district court granting summary judgment to Riverton Memorial Hospital, LLC and dismissing this complaint alleging that Hospital violated the now-repealed Wyoming Hospital Records and Information Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. 35-2-605 to 35-2-617, holding that a genuine issue of material fact existed precluding summary judgment.In their complaint, Rebecca and Tyler Wiese claimed that the Hospital failed to provide them all "health care information" concerning Rebecca's labor and delivery, including information associated with her Centricity Perinatal electronic medical record, in violation of the Act. The district court granted summary judgment of the Hospital, concluding that the Hospital complied with the Act by informing the Wieses and that Centricity electronic record and audit trial did not exist and/or could not be found. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) audit trails were "health care information" under the Act; and (2) a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Hospital complied with the Act with respect to Rebecca's Centricity electronic record and audit trail. View "Wiese v. Riverton Memorial Hospital, LLC" on Justia Law

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Indiana requires abortion providers to dispose of fetal remains by either burial or cremation. Women may choose to take custody of the remains and dispose of them as they please. The Supreme Court sustained this regimen against Equal Protection challenges in 2019.This suit was filed by two women who had abortions and object to the cremation or burial of the fetal remains, which they contend implies the personhood of a pre-viability fetus, and two physicians do not want to tell patients about their statutory options. The Seventh Circuit reversed a “needlessly broad injunction” that treats the statute as invalid on its face and “effectively countermands the Supreme Court’s decision for the entire population of Indiana." The state does not require any woman who has obtained an abortion to violate any belief, religious or secular. The cremate-or-bury directive applies only to hospitals and clinics. Indiana’s statute need not imply anything about the appropriate characterization of a fetus. Nor does Indiana require any woman to speak or engage in expressive conduct. A state may require medical professionals to provide information that facilitates patients’ choices directly linked to procedures that have been or may be performed. View "Doe v. Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, New Jersey Governor Murphy responded to the spread of COVID-19; Executive Order 107 prohibited in-person gatherings and ordered New Jersey residents to “remain home or at their place of residence,” except for certain approved purposes, such as an “educational, political, or religious reason.” EO 107 excepted businesses deemed “essential,” including grocery and liquor stores, which could continue to welcome any number of persons (consistent with social distancing guidelines). Violations of EO 107 were subject to criminal prosecution for “disorderly conduct.” The order granted the Superintendent of the State Police, “discretion to make clarifications and issue [related] orders[.]” He exercised that power, declaring (Administrative Order 2020-4) that gatherings of 10 or fewer persons were presumptively permitted. Neither EO 107 nor AO 2020-4 contained an exception for religious worship gatherings or other First Amendment activity.Two New Jersey-based, Christian congregations, believing that the Bible requires them to gather for in-person worship services, violated the Orders and were cited. Less than a week after the filing of their complaint, challenging the Orders, Governor Murphy raised indoor gathering limits to 50 persons or 25 percent of room capacity (whichever was less), allowing outdoor religious gatherings without any gathering limits. The district court denied the congregations’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The Third Circuit dismissed an appeal as moot. View "Clark v. Governor of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Kristin Anton appealed a district court judgment affirming an order by Job Service North Dakota denying Anton pandemic unemployment assistance benefits. Anton stopped working on March 12, 2020 when the public schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Anton stopped working because she relied on the school system to provide childcare for at least one of her children. Her employer, Heart River Cleaning, did not close and did not hold Anton’s position for her while she stayed home to watch her children. Anton challenged the finding that she had failed to prove she was entitled to pandemic unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Anton v. Klipfel, et. al." on Justia Law

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The California Legislature has required school children to be vaccinated for 10 diseases; COVID-19 was not yet among them. The issue here was whether a school district could require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for both: (1) attending in-person class; and (2) participating in extracurricular activities. The superior court determined there was a “statewide standard for school vaccination,” leaving “no room for each of the over 1,000 individual school districts to impose a patchwork of additional vaccine mandates.” On independent review, the Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion and affirmed the judgment. View "Let Them Choose v. San Diego Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction this case brought by Plaintiffs, two religious leaders, challenging restrictions that the Governor imposed on houses of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic, holding that Plaintiffs failed to show any basis for relief.Plaintiffs asserted that they suffered harm as a result of the challenged restrictions and that the restrictions triggered, but could not survive, strict scrutiny. Plaintiffs sought as a remedy a declaration that the challenged restrictions were unconstitutional and a permanent injunction prohibiting the Governor from implementing similar restrictions in the future. The Court of Chancery granted the Governor's motion to dismiss, holding that Plaintiffs did not establish a reasonable apprehension that the Governor would engage in conduct that would warrant a permanent injunction and therefore did not make the necessary showing. View "In Re Covid-Related Restrictions On Religious Services" on Justia Law

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In 2021, Tennessee enacted a statute that vaccination, masking, and quarantine decisions: “A local health entity or official, mayor, governmental entity, or school does not have the authority to quarantine a person or private business for purposes of COVID-19,” and “a school or a governing body of a school shall not require a person to wear a face mask while on school property” unless various conditions are met. Before seeking accommodation under its terms, eight minor students with disabilities filed suit, alleging that the legislation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101m Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Supremacy Clause. The district court granted a preliminary injunction with respect to sections of the Act concerning face coverings for schools and provisions that prohibit local health officials and schools from making quarantining decisions as they relate to public schools.While acknowledging that the case is moot, the Sixth Circuit dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiffs’ argument that they are injured because the Act categorically violates the ADA amounts to an overly generalized grievance. They do not seek redress for a completed violation of a legal right; they seek only prospective relief to protect against future violations. Their injuries are not fairly traceable to any defendant, so no remedy applicable to those defendants (be it an injunction or a declaration) would redress the alleged injuries. View "R. K. v. Lee" on Justia Law

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This case presented the questions of whether and how Alaska Statute 09.55.548(b) applied when the claimant’s losses were compensated by an employer’s self-funded health benefit plan governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that an ERISA plan did not fall within the statute’s “federal program” exception. Therefore AS 09.55.548(b) required a claimant’s damages award to be reduced by the amount of compensation received from an ERISA plan. But the Supreme Court also concluded that the distinction the statute draws between different types of medical malpractice claimants was not fairly and substantially related to the statute’s purpose of ensuring claimants do not receive a double recovery — an award of damages predicated on losses that were already compensated by a collateral source. "Because insurance contracts commonly require the insured to repay the insurer using the proceeds of any tort recovery, claimants with health insurance are scarcely more likely to receive a double recovery than other malpractice claimants. The statute therefore violates the equal protection guarantee of the Alaska Constitution." View "Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and remanded in part the order of the district court denying Plaintiffs' application to preliminarily enjoin the State from enforcing House Bill 702, a "vaccination discrimination law," as enacted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to issue the preliminary injunction.HB 702, codified as Mont. Code Ann. 49-2-312, was an act "prohibition discrimination based on a person's vaccination status." Plaintiffs sought to preserve their ability to enforce a vaccine mandate on current and prospective employees by bringing this action. The lower court dismissed the complaint, ruling that Plaintiffs failed to satisfy their burden of establishing a prima facie case that they would suffer irreparable harm caused by implantation of the law prior to the final resolution of the case. The Supreme Court remanded in part, holding (1) the court's decision to deny preliminary injunctive relief did not constitute a manifest abuse of discretion; and (2) the court did not manifestly abuse its discretion in denying preliminary injunctive relief prior to final resolution on the merits. View "Netzer v. State" on Justia Law