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Judge tosses COVID-19 vaccine objections of Hanford workers

May 13, 2022 GMT

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by several hundred Hanford nuclear reservation and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory workers in Richland, Washington, over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

The lawsuit was filed in November to halt enforcement of President Joe Biden’s executive orders requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for Department of Energy employees and the employees of contractors and subcontractors on federal projects, The Tri-City Herald reported.

But U.S. Judge Thomas Rice found that lawyers for the Hanford and national lab workers had not provided clear arguments nor specific information about most workers to make their case.

With the original complaint already changed once, Rice had no confidence in another amended complaint after their “continued failures to address the shortcomings in their various pleadings,” he said in his order dismissing the case. The case has been argued by Nathan Arnold of Seattle and Pete Serrano, a Pasco city council member and director and attorney for the Silent Majority Foundation in Pasco, which organized the lawsuit.

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Rice had already refused to temporarily halt enforcement of the vaccine mandates while the lawsuit proceeded. The judge said 307 of the workers in the case had not shown they were harmed by the vaccine mandate or that a decision in their favor would redress any harm.

Many had not filed for religious or medical exemptions allowed by the mandates, Rice said. Others had filed but failed to provide information to the court on their exemption or vaccination status.

“Without knowing whether these plaintiffs are in compliance with the vaccination or exemption requirements, it is impossible to know whether they could face an adverse employment action,” Rice said.

Other plaintiffs failed to say who employed them, giving them no standing in the case. That left just seven plaintiffs in the case with possibly valid claims.

Attorneys argued that the vaccine mandates violated the U.S. Constitution. But Rice found that “a closer examination of the claims reveals only broad recitations of various constitutional principles muddled with repetitive allegations that the executive orders were promulgated in excess of President Biden’s authority.”

Claims based on freedom of religion did not hold up because plaintiffs did not identify the religious activities they were engaged in or how those activities were substantially burdened by the executive orders, Rice said. Rice also found that the vaccine mandates or a valid exemption were a requirement for employment, but no one had been forced to get a vaccine, he said.

DOE hires contractors to do most of the work at the Hanford site, with the large majority of the 11,000 workers at the nuclear reservation employed by contractors and subcontractors. The claimants in the lawsuit included some DOE employees, but mostly contractor and subcontractor employees.

The 580-square-mile (1,502-square-kilometer) Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington was used from World War II through the Cold War to produce nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

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About $2.5 billion annually is spent on environmental cleanup of the contaminated site. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory in Richland operated by Battelle under an Energy Department contract. It employs about 5,350 people and has an annual budget of about $1.25 billion.