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UMass Defeats Students’ Suit to Stop Mandatory Covid Shots

Aug. 27, 2021, 7:06 PM

The University of Massachusetts can insist that students at its Boston and Lowell campuses be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before returning to campus at the beginning of the fall semester, a federal court in the state said Friday.

UMass joins a list of schools whose vaccine mandates have been given the go-ahead by federal courts, including the University of Connecticut and the University of Indiana. Suits challenging vaccine mandates have also been filed against Rutgers, California State University, and George Mason University.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed the students’ complaint against UMass Boston and UMass Lowell under the Eleventh Amendment, which generally bars citizens’ suits in federal court against state agencies and “arms of the state,” like the schools.

It also went on to deny the students’ motion to block the mandate, saying they didn’t demonstrate a likelihood of winning their 14th Amendment procedural and substantive due process claims. The remaining injunction factors—irreparable harm, balance of harms, and the public interest—also didn’t weigh in favor of granting a preliminary injunction, it said.

The students likely won’t win on their procedural due process claim because they didn’t identify a protected liberty interest the school allegedly deprived them of without adequate process, the court said. Even if the students have a liberty interest in a UMass education, being unvaccinated doesn’t deprive them of it as they can still take classes online, the court said.

Additionally, the students received adequate notice of the policy when the school announced it in April, the court said. The school also gave students the option of applying for religious and medical exemptions from the mandate.

The students’ substantive due process claim also likely fails because the mandate is rationally related to a legitimate government interest in curbing the spread of Covid-19, the court said in a decision by Judge Denise J. Casper.

McLane & McLane LLC represents the students. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office represents the school and school officials.

The case is Harris v. Univ. of Mass. Lowell, D. Mass., No. 21-11244, 8/27/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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