Maine health workers have until Monday to reveal names in a vaccine mandate lawsuit

Nine Maine health care workers who sued Gov. Janet Mills and others over the state’s mandate for a COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers now have until Monday to release their names.

The Court of Appeals for the First District in Boston on Thursday rejected the workers’ request to remain anonymous and gave them until Friday to comply with the order by filing an amended complaint naming them. But on Friday, the plaintiffs were granted a one-business day extension – until Monday, July 11 – to file the amended complaint.

Attorneys for Liberty Counsel, a conservative, religious law firm in Florida that represents health care workers, said in a court filing Friday that the one-day extension was necessary to give attorneys time to talk to each plaintiff about whether they want to continue disclosing their identity in amended complaint.

The defendants and media involved in the case, including the Portland Press Herald, agreed to the one-day extension.

The plaintiffs notified the lawyers of the intervening media in the case that they will not file further appeals in the case.

The plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last August, before the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in Maine’s designated care facilities took effect on Oct. 20, 2021. They argued it was their religious right to refuse the vaccine in their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions are used to develop vaccines.

Maine’s mandate does not allow religious exemptions.

Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were named as defendants in the lawsuit along with the governor and several health agencies.

The case prompted several Maine newspapers to intervene in an effort to have the plaintiffs identified. The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a motion in November 2021 challenging the group’s right to file the complaint anonymously. The newspapers argued that “plaintiffs’ alleged fear of harm no longer outweighs the public’s interest in open litigation,” according to court documents.

U.S. District Court Judge John D. Levy ruled May 31 that the plaintiffs cannot remain anonymous and ordered them to file an amended complaint naming them by June 7. Levy said in his ruling that “plaintiffs’ religious beliefs and resulting medical decisions not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, whether considered individually or together, do not constitute such substantial privacy interests as to support pseudonymous proceedings . Ultimately, however, there is an almost complete lack of evidence that the fears they express are objectively reasonable.

The plaintiffs appealed the June 7 deadline and were given until July 8 to comply with his ruling, which appeals court judges upheld on Thursday. They wrote in their decision that the plaintiffs “have not established a threat of irreparable harm.”

“The public interest and the interests of the intervening media weigh in favor of denying the stay because of the presumption of public access,” the justices wrote.

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