Maine healthcare workers are losing an appeal to remain anonymous in the vaccine mandate litigation

An appeals court Thursday denied a request by nine Maine healthcare workers to remain anonymous in their lawsuit against Gov. Janet Mills and others over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

The 14-page judgment, obtained by the Portland Press Herald Thursday night, gives the plaintiffs and their attorneys until Friday, July 8 to either comply with the order by having their identities unsealed or appeal the court’s ruling Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Holly Meade, spokeswoman for Liberty Counsel, which represents healthcare workers – identified in court documents at John Does and Jane Does – said Thursday night Liberty Counsel is still weighing its options. Liberty Counsel, a conservative, religious law firm based in Florida, has participated in multiple court cases against Maine and other states over COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. Nationally, the firm has also spoken out against safe and legal access to abortion and same-sex marriage.

“We’re evaluating the situation and haven’t made a decision yet,” Meade replied in an email when asked if Liberty’s clients would appeal.

The nine plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last August before the COVID-19 immunization mandate for workers at certain Maine healthcare facilities went into effect on October 29, 2021. The plaintiffs argued it was their religious right to oppose the vaccine over their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions were used to develop the vaccines. The Maine mandate does not allow for religious exceptions.

Defendants in the lawsuit were Gov. Janet Mills, Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as several public health agencies.

The lawsuit prompted several Maine newspapers to step in to compel the plaintiffs to be identified. The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a filing in November 2021 challenging the group’s right to file the complaint anonymously. The newspapers argued that the plaintiffs’ “alleged fear of harm no longer outweighed the public’s interest in an open trial,” according to court documents.

On May 31, US District Court Judge Jon D. Levy ruled that the plaintiffs could not remain anonymous and required them to file an expanded complaint using their names by June 7. In his decision, Levy said that “the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs and their consequences Medical decisions not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, whether considered individually or collectively, do not constitute privacy interests so substantial that pseudonymous proceedings.” could be supported. Ultimately, however, there is almost no evidence that their fears are objectively justified.”

Plaintiffs appealed the June 7 deadline, and Levy gave plaintiffs June 17 until July 8 to comply with his decision, a decision the appeals court judges upheld Thursday.

“Since the plaintiffs’ chances of success in the case depend on their showing a reasonable fear of harm, it follows that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a risk of irreparable harm. The denial of residence itself in these circumstances does not constitute irreparable damage,” the judges wrote. “The public interest and the interests of the media intervention intervenants weigh in favor of refusing the suspension on the basis of the public’s suspicion.”

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