Just one month after issuing a temporary injunction preventing the city of Gainesville from requiring employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, the judge in the case is now entertaining a motion from city attorneys to modify or rescind the ruling.
The legal maneuver comes after a Sept. 23 meeting in which city commissioners voted, 6-1, to scrap the vaccine plan entirely. It’s not clear why the city is continuing to defend the ordinance now that it no longer exists.
Shelby Taylor, the city’s communications director, declined to comment on the motion. Mayor Lauren Poe and city attorneys have not responded to multiple emails and voicemails. Taylor said city officials are not permitted to speak about the ongoing litigation.
When commissioners adopted the vaccine mandate in early August, Alachua County was experiencing a surge of COVID-19 infections. Three weeks later, 200 Gainesville public employees, including firefighters, police officers and utility workers, filed suit against the city.
Alachua Circuit Judge Monica Brasington on Sept. 22 granted the workers a temporary injunction that prevented the city from enforcing its vaccinate or terminate policy. In her order, Brasington cited Florida residents’ constitutional privacy rights and stated the city did not present sufficient evidence that vaccinations were the least restrictive means to ensure community safety.
Commissioners rescinded the policy the following day.
The city is now encouraging staff to follow President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating employers with more than 100 workers require employees to show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing.
In its Oct. 4 filing, the city claims Brasington made multiple errors in her decision to stay the city’s vaccine mandate, including applying the wrong legal standard and improperly extending the rights of private citizens to citizens employed by the government.
On Oct. 6, Jeff Childers, the lawyer representing the employees, filed a response to the city’s latest motion stating that the city offered nothing new and was simply refiling prior arguments combined with “a variety of logical fallacies, straw men, red herrings, false dichotomies, references to evidence not in the record, citations to inapplicable authority, and wild speculation about the potential future direction of Supreme Court law.”
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Childers questioned the sincerity of the city’s latest motion.
“I think they’re just trying to stretch out their time to file an appeal,” he said.
If the injunction is overturned and the vaccine mandate reinstated, the city could face fines from the Florida Department of Health.
One day after commissioners rescinded the vaccine mandate, the city received a letter from the agency warning it would be slapped with fines if a vaccine mandate is enforced.
City Manager Lee Feldman responded in a letter telling the state that employees are no longer subject to a vaccine requirement.
Since the city filed its motion for reconsideration, one Florida county has been hit with more than $3.5 million in fines for what the health department called a “blatant violation of the law.”
Leon County enacted a policy to require its employees to provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 1 and fired 14 employees for refusing to comply with its mandate.
City Commissioner David Arreola said he wasn’t worried about facing similar fines.
“Am I concerned? Am I worried? No. I think history is going to judge these people very poorly.
“I think fines like that are counterproductive,” Arreola added. “I think it’s heavy-handed authoritarian government. All we’re trying to do is get people safe vaccinations.”
Both parties have until Oct. 26 to submit highlighted case law and proposed orders for Brasington’s review. Should the court withdraw the injunction, Childers said he plans to appeal the case.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Julia Coin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org