Healthcare Law Alert: New York State Supreme Court Judge Invalidates COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Update:  The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York in the Fourth Judicial Department issued a stay on Judge Neri’s order on February 27, 2023.  The stay will keep New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health workers in place while the appeal of the decision is ongoing, halting enforcement of the Judge’s January 13, 2023, decision.  The appeal will be added to the court’s term commencing May 15, 2023.

On January 13, 2023, New York State Supreme Court Judge Honorable Gerard J. Neri invalidated the New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate continuously requiring health care workers to be “fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” unless a specific exception applies.  Hon. Judge Neri ruled in favor of the Petitioners – Medical Professionals for Informed Consent, a group of medical professionals – declaring that the COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate requirement exceeded the authority of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Department of Health.

During the beginning stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the New York Legislature ceded powers to then Governor Andrew Cuomo on an emergency basis.  On June 24, 2021, Governor Cuomo rescinded his previous emergency orders related to the COVID-19 Pandemic, effectively ending the emergency resulting from the pandemic.  Subsequently, on June 22, 2022, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health adopted the vaccine mandate as a permanent regulation.

Hon. Judge Neri found that the COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate is preempted by New York State Law.  Specifically, Public Health Law Sections 206 and 613 prohibit “mandatory immunization of adults or children.”  NY Pub Health Law §§ 206, 613.  While the legislature intended to grant the New York State Department of Health authority to oversee “voluntary adult immunization programs,” the Judge held that the vaccine mandate exceeded the parameters of power granted by the legislature, citing Matter of NYC C.L.A.S.H., Inc. v. N.Y. State Off. of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preserv., 27 N.Y.3d 174, 178 [2016] (citing Greater NY Taxi Assn. v. NY City Taxi & Limousine Commn., 25 N.Y.3d 600, 608 [2015]).

On January 24, 2023, the New York State Department of Health appealed Judge Neri’s decision to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the Fourth Judicial Department.  The Department of Health considers the vaccine mandate essential, referring to the COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate as a “critical public health tool” in their statement to the Associated Press on January 14, 2023.  The appeal challenges “each and every party” of Judge Neri’s decision, and the case is currently ongoing.

We will continue to monitor publications by the New York State Department of Health and future court decisions, and will provide additional updates as they become available.

Please contact attorneys in our Healthcare Industry Group with any questions.

This communication is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice.