District Court of Puerto Rico Denies Preliminary Injunction and Dismisses Case Seeking to Halt Vaccine Mandate for Executive Branch Employees

On November 1, 2021, the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico denied Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction to block an Executive Order requiring COVID-19 vaccination and dismissed the case. Rodriguez-Velez v. Pierluisi-Urrutia, No. 21-CV-1366 PAD, 2021 WL 5072017, at *1 (D.P.R. Nov. 1, 2021).  (A copy of the District Court’s opinion is available here.)

Case Background

On July 28, 2021, Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi-Urrutia issued Executive Order 21-058, requiring public employees of the Executive Branch that work in person to be fully vaccinated by September 30, 2021. Id. at *3. The Executive Order provided for medical exceptions for employees with compromised immune systems, who are allergic to vaccines, or who have medical contraindication to vaccines, so long as they provide a certification issued by a physician. Id. at *3. The Executive Order also provided for religions exceptions if an employee could provide an affidavit of religious objection signed by both the employee and minister or spiritual leader of her church or religion. Id.

Plaintiffs were career employees of the Executive Branch who sought to enjoin the implementation of the vaccine mandate, arguing that the mandate violated their rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the dignity and privacy provisions of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Id. at *1.

The Ruling

In a lengthy order, the district court denied Plaintiffs’ requested injunction and dismissed their suit. Id. The court further held that the Executive Order served a compelling state interest that had a direct link to a public health crisis and contained reasonable exceptions for medical and religious reasons. Id. “Just as the law recognizes the right to determine what shall be done with our own bodies, it also recognizes that there are limitations to that right. Among these limits is society’s interest in protecting the community’s health and safety.” Id. at *30.

Need help trying to work through the legal ramifications of your vaccine mandate policy? Contact Charles Insler in our Employment & Labor Law practice group for expert help

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