Not Ducking the Issue: The District of Oregon Denies Requests to Enjoin State’s Vaccine Mandates

On October 19, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon denied plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order against Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Williams v. Brown, No. 6:21-CV-01332-AA, 2021 WL 4894264, at *1 (D. Or. Oct. 19, 2021). (The district court’s opinion is available here.) The day before, another Court in the district denied a similar request for injunctive relief. Johnson v. Brown, No. 3:21-CV-1494-SI, 2021 WL 4846060, at *1 (D. Or. Oct. 18, 2021).  (That opinion is available here.)

Case Background

On August 13, 2021, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued an Executive Order that required that executive branch workers and employees be fully vaccinated by October 18, 2021. Williams, 2021 WL 4894264, at *3. The executive order permitted “reasonable accommodations” for “individuals unable to be vaccinated due to disability, qualifying medical condition, or sincerely held religious belief.” Id. In conjunction with the governor’s order, the Oregon Health Authority enacted administrative rules, providing that healthcare providers and healthcare staff who work in a healthcare setting had to be fully vaccinated by October 18, 2021, unless they have provided documentation of a medical or religious exception. Id.

In Williams, Joshua Williams and several other plaintiffs brought suit to enjoin these vaccine mandates. Id. at *4. The plaintiffs challenged the mandates, arguing that the mandates violated their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at *5.

The Ruling

The district court denied the plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief, finding that plaintiffs were not likely to prevail on the merits of their claims because the vaccine mandates easily survive rational basis review. Id. at *8-10. The district court also concluded the plaintiffs had not demonstrated irreparable harm and that the balance of equities favored the state. Id. at *10-11. “Whatever hardships Plaintiffs face in choosing between accepting vaccination or leaving their employment are substantially outweighed by the interests and needs of the State of Oregon and her people.” Id. at *11.

Finally, the Court declined to grant an injunction pending an appeal. Id.

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

  • Charles N. Insler

    Charles N. Insler concentrates his practice on complex commercial litigation including;

    • antitrust and unfair competition litigation
    • appellate work
    • business torts
    • class action litigation
    • intellectual property disputes

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Kerri Forsythe

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