Judge affirms ruling against GNV vaccine mandate

An Alachua County judge on Friday upheld her earlier injunction that bars the City of Gainesville from enacting its employee vaccine mandate.

In a seven-page order issued Friday afternoon, Judge Monica Brasington of Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit denied the city’s request that she reconsider her earlier ruling.

“The City’s Motion for Reconsideration raised additional legal arguments but did not provide any newly-discovered evidence,” the judge wrote.

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Brasington heard arguments in the case on Sept. 20 and initially ruled against the city’s vaccine mandate on Sept. 22, saying that the city’s requirement that employees and contractors be fully vaccinated infringed on their constitutional right to privacy.

Because Brasington determined that the right to privacy was central to the case, the vaccine mandate was subject to strict scrutiny.

Strict scrutiny is the highest standard of judicial review that can apply to a law and involves the government proving that a law serves “a compelling public interest” and is narrowly tailored enough to meet that public interest.

The city had argued in its motion to reconsider that strict scrutiny didn’t apply to the mandate in part because it was a workplace policy, but Brasington was unconvinced.

“This Court rejected that argument at the hearing, and must reject it now,” Brasington wrote in Friday’s order. “Florida’s Supreme Court has held that a city’s workplace policy can be reviewed for constitutionality under Florida’s right to privacy.”

At the hearing and in her initial injunction ruling, Brasington was critical of the lack of evidence and relevant case law offered by the city. That thread of criticism continued in Friday’s ruling.

“Courts decide legal disputes based on the evidence that comes before the court,” Brasington wrote. “In this case, the City failed to provide any evidence and failed to call any witness to testify that in creating the City’s policy that they relied on any specific findings of the CDC… to create a policy that was the least restrictive means to serve a compelling State interest. It is not the role of the Court to speculate, infer, assume, or consider information beyond the evidence presented by the parties to a suit. To engage in this behavior, as the City appears to request this court do, would be improper.”

In an emailed comment Jeff Childers, the plaintiffs’ attorney, called the decision a “knockout.” 

“The judge let the City have it, with a strongly-worded critique about its assumption that the court would just rubber-stamp whatever the City was doing,” Childers said. “The Circuit Court patiently explained to the City that it can only rule on the evidence that is put before it. It can’t rely on statements like ‘everybody knows’ or ‘the president said.’ The Court needs facts and testimony, which the City didn’t provide.”

Following the court’s initial injunction, the Gainesville City Commission voted to reconsider the vaccine mandate and asked staff to work with the city’s unions to draft a new vaccine policy modeled on a federal vaccination requirement that allowed for weekly testing as an alternative.

Mainstreet Daily News asked for comment from the city on Friday’s ruling and asked about whether the city planned any next steps in the case.

Rossana Passaniti, the city’s public information officer, said in an email: “The health, safety and welfare of our city’s workforce and those we serve remain our number one priority, and we’ll continue to strongly encourage our employees to get vaccinated.”

When the city filed the motion to reconsider, Mainstreet Daily News asked why the city was continuing to fight the injunction since the commission had voted to rework the policy and additionally asked if the city would pursue the case to an appellate court.

“We do not offer comment on matters involving pending or active litigation,” Passaniti said via another email.

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