Legal twists continue in health worker vaccine fight

A Louisiana-based appeals court said a federal district judge went too far in issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction against the rule requiring health care workers to be vaccinated.

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  • | 3:19 p.m. December 16, 2021
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As Florida battles the Biden administration about a rule that would require health-care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a Louisiana-based appeals court Wednesday, Dec. 15, scaled back an injunction that had blocked the rule nationwide.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a federal district judge in Louisiana went too far in issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction against the rule. As a result, the injunction continues to apply to 14 states involved in the Louisiana case — but not to other states such as Florida.

“This vaccine rule is an issue of great significance currently being litigated throughout the country,” the panel of the New Orleans-based appeals court said. “Its ultimate resolution will benefit from ‘the airing of competing views’ in our sister circuits.“

Florida is one of numerous states that filed legal challenges against the rule, which the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued in early November. Unlike in the Louisiana case, Pensacola-based U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers denied Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration.

That led Florida to appeal Rodgers’ decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. A panel of that court denied Florida’s request to at least temporarily block Rodgers’ decision while the appeal moves forward.

In its request to the 11th Circuit, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office raised the possibility that the nationwide injunction issued in Louisiana might not continue to apply and that “Florida and its citizens would be without protection.”

A panel of the 11th Circuit grappled with whether it should rule in the Florida case after Louisiana U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty issued the nationwide injunction. A majority of the panel concluded that the “Louisiana nationwide preliminary injunction did not deprive us of jurisdiction.”

The legal wrangling across the country is being closely watched by the health-care industry. The vaccination requirement would apply to workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care providers that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The requirement was initially scheduled to take effect Dec. 6, but the Biden administration suspended it because of injunctions that had been issued. In addition to the Louisiana injunction, a federal judge in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction in a case filed by 10 states. That case is pending in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Wednesday’s ruling in the Louisiana case, the 5th Circuit panel denied a Biden administration request for a stay of the preliminary injunction as it applies to the 14 states that filed the case. But the court granted a stay of the injunction as it applied to states in the rest of the country.

“Though we deny the stay generally, we also consider whether the preliminary injunction should remain in effect beyond the 14 states that have brought this suit,” the panel said. “Principles of judicial restraint control here. Other courts are considering these same issues, with several courts already and inconsistently ruling. In addition, the many states that have not brought suit may well have accepted and even endorsed the vaccination rule. The question posed is whether one district court should make a binding judgment for the entire country.”


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