Fourth Circuit Dismisses Vaccine Mandate Suit By Federal Employees

Kollman & Saucier
Kollman & Saucier

Two federal employees sued President Biden, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Defense, seeking to enjoin Executive Order 14,043.  That Executive Order, with limited exceptions, requires that all federal employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  The employees argued the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional and violates their rights to due process, privacy, and bodily integrity.  They asked the United States District Court for Maryland to issue a nation-wide preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Executive Order. 

The district court reviewed the request for preliminary injunction on the merits.  The district court found the plaintiffs’ constitutional arguments were unlikely to succeed.  It also found the plaintiffs would not suffer irreparable harm if they lost their jobs for failing to comply, and that the balance of equities and public interest weighed against issuing a preliminary injunction because the government had a compelling interest in stopping the spread of COVID-19.  The plaintiffs’ appealed.

On April 19, 2022, in the case of Rydie v. Joseph Biden, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit.  The Fourth Circuit concluded the district court should not have reached the merits of the motion for preliminary injunction, because it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.  The appeals court wrote the plaintiffs were required to exhaust their remedies under the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA), which sets up an “elaborate new framework for evaluating personnel actions against federal employees,” “including the availability of administrative and judicial review.”  Under the CSRA, employees are required to file allegations of “prohibited personnel practices” with the Office of Special Counsel.  This would include proposed removal in violation of the law, including the constitution.  If the Office of Special Counsel finds reasonable grounds to suggest a prohibited personnel practice is happening or has occurred, the matter is reported to the Merit Systems Protection Board for action.  Judicial review of Board’s final orders is available in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  The Court found that by creating this scheme, Congress divested the federal district courts of jurisdiction over agency action.


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