Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging University of Connecticut’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

By GQ Pan
GQ Pan
GQ Pan
Reporter
August 18, 2021 Updated: August 18, 2021

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging University of Connecticut’s (UConn) COVID-19 vaccination policy, citing a lack of jurisdiction over the case.

The lawsuit was brought to the U.S. District Court in Connecticut in July by two current UConn students and the mother of an incoming freshman. They sought to block the university’s mandate that students must either submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or request for an exemption, arguing that it is unconstitutional for a public university to require them to receive a yet-to-be fully approved vaccine as a condition of attendance.

The suing students and parent also claimed that the policy is irrational, since UConn requires young students—who are not particularly vulnerable to COVID-19—to get the vaccine, but doesn’t impose the same vaccination mandate on its older and more vulnerable faculty and staff.

In his opinion dismissing the case (pdf), U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer wrote that although the plaintiffs “raised important constitutional questions,” they didn’t show enough facts to establish the court’s jurisdiction over their claims.

A federal court may resolve a claim that a state government entity is violating the U.S. Constitution “only if it is clear that a plaintiff has an actual or imminent injury that is fairly traceable to the government’s action and is redressable by a court order of relief,” the dismissal order reads. “That is not this case.”

Meyer explained that two of the three people suing UConn have already requested for and been granted non-medical exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, rending their claims moot.

“In light of the granting of their exemption requests, [the two students] have no continuing real or expected imminent injury from UConn’s vaccination requirement,” he said. “In such circumstances … a federal court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate the plaintiff’s claim.”

The third student refused to request for an exemption, Meyer said, and by doing so, “she has not suffered an injury that the law recognizes as the basis for a right to complain in federal court.”

UConn, whose five campuses serve more than 31,000 students, applauded the judge’s decision.

“The university is pleased with the court’s decision,” said UConn in a statement. “Our student vaccination program continues to be very successful, and we look forward to reopening for the fall semester with our campuses as safe and healthy as possible.”

The decision comes after a similar case, in which eight students at Indiana University sued the school over a vaccination mandate that blocked unvaccinated students from registering for class. Seven of the students qualify for a religious exemption, but they have to wear masks and undergo COVID-19 testing under the university policy.

The students said in court filings that they have “a constitutional right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in the context of a vaccination mandate.” They wanted the court to issue an order barring the university from enforcing the policy.

On Aug. 2, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the university, saying that students failed to show enough evidence that their constitutional rights were being violated. An attempt to challenge the policy in the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected last week by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

GQ Pan
GQ Pan
Reporter