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A Missouri judge halts Biden's health care vax rule, and Florida's case moves to an appeals court

Gavel and a stethoscope
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The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The federal judge issued an injunction against the federal requirement. Meanwhile, a Pensacola-based judge issued an order that clears Florida's challenge to be onsidered by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Updated at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday

A Missouri judge on Monday at least temporarily blocked a federal COVID-19 vaccination requirement for health care workers in 10 states, while a separate Florida challenge to the mandate will be considered by an appeals court.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp, of the federal Eastern District of Missouri, issued a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration requirement that workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers be vaccinated against COVID-19. Schelp’s ruling applies to health care workers in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Meanwhile, Pensacola-based U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers issued an order Monday that will clear the way for Florida’s challenge to be considered by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rodgers on Nov. 20 rejected Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order against the vaccination requirement. She issued an order Saturday, however, that said she had decided to reconsider the request for a preliminary injunction because of a new state law that seeks to ban vaccination mandates.

But she changed course Monday after lawyers in Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office and the Biden administration urged her to allow the case to quickly go to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Rodgers went along with the request

The flurry of legal activity came as the vaccination requirement for health care workers is slated to take effect Dec. 6.

The federal rule, issued this month, applies to hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Under the rule, health care workers are required to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, with limited exemptions for medical and religious reasons.

Moody’s office filed the Florida lawsuit Nov. 17, a week after the 10 other states jointly filed a challenge in Missouri.

Schelp, who was nominated to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, issued a 32-page decision that said, in part, the 10 states “are likely to succeed in their argument that Congress has not provided CMS (the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) the authority to enact the regulation at issue here.”

“in conclusion, even if Congress’s statutory language was susceptible to CMS’s exceedingly broad reading -- which it is most likely not -- Congress did not clearly authorize CMS to enact ... this politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate, which Supreme Court precedent requires,” Schelp wrote.

In her Nov. 20 ruling rejecting Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, Rodgers wrote that the state had not shown “irreparable harm.” Among Florida’s contentions is that the federal rule would affect state-run health facilities, such as veterans’ nursing homes.

“The affidavits (of state officials) in support of the motion include assertions of how the various agencies and institutions anticipate they may be adversely impacted by the mandate,” Rodgers, who was nominated to the bench by former President George W. Bush, wrote in the Nov. 20 ruling. “In particular, the affidavits express opinions of agency heads who ‘estimate’ that they ‘may’ lose a certain percentage or a number of employees, or speculate as to the consequences they will suffer ‘if widespread resignations were to occur.’ However, such opinions, absent supporting factual evidence, remain speculative and may be disregarded as conclusory.”

The state last week took the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and requested that Rodgers issue an emergency injunction against the vaccination requirement while the appellate court considers the issues.

Rodgers on Saturday refused to issue the emergency injunction but said she would reconsider the state’s original request for a preliminary injunction. The reason: Florida lawmakers on Nov. 17 passed a bill aimed at preventing vaccination mandates, a measure that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Nov. 18.

In the order Saturday, Rodgers wrote that the state had not informed her of the bill’s passage before she issued the Nov. 20 ruling.

Rodgers scheduled a hearing Wednesday in Pensacola. But attorneys for the state and the Biden administration responded Sunday with a joint motion to “vacate” the hearing, as Florida plans to “pursue expeditiously its previously filed appeal from the court’s denial of a preliminary injunction.”

“The parties agree that further district court proceedings on the same motion are unwarranted under these circumstances,” the joint motion said.

Rodgers on Monday granted the joint motion and canceled the hearing. The appeals court had not scheduled a hearing as of Monday afternoon, according to an online docket.

Moody’s office has alleged that the federal government overstepped its legal authority in issuing the vaccination requirement and did not follow proper procedures, such as consulting with states and providing notice. Also, the lawsuit contends that the requirement is “arbitrary and capricious.” Much of the lawsuit is based on alleged violations of the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

The vaccination requirement is set to affect hundreds of private hospitals, nursing homes and other providers in Florida, in addition to state agencies that provide health care services. State and industry officials have repeatedly pointed to concerns about staffing shortages.

While the federal government had not filed detailed arguments in the Florida case, it filed a 66-page document in Missouri that cited evidence of vaccinated people in health care settings being less likely to become infected with COVID-19 and transmit it to others.

“The secretary of (the Department of) Health and Human Services (which includes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) reviewed this evidence and concluded that action was urgently needed to protect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from the possibility that they would become infected with the virus while they receive care in facilities funded by these programs,” U.S. Department of Justice attorneys wrote. “Congress has assigned the secretary a statutory responsibility to ensure that the health and safety of patients are protected in these federally-funded facilities. He accordingly issued a rule to do so.”