Children's Health Rights of Mass. v. Belmont Pub. Sch. Dist.

Docket Number22-P-754
Decision Date23 June 2023
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts

Heard March 2, 2023.

School and School District. Public Health Immunization. Constitutional Law, Standing. Practice, Civil, Standing, Preliminary injunction. Declaratory Relief.

Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on February 16, 2022.

A motion for a preliminary injunction was heard by William M. White, Jr., J.

Brian Unger for the plaintiff.

Megan B. Bayer for Belmont Public School District.

Nina L. Pickering-Cook for Cambridge Public School District.

Present: Vuono, Sullivan, &Singh, JJ.


Children's Health Rights of Massachusetts, Inc. (CHRM) appeals from an order denying its motion for a preliminary injunction, a motion that sought to enjoin COVID-19 vaccination policies to the extent applicable to participation in extracurricular activities in the public schools in the town of Belmont and the city of Cambridge.[2] We affirm.


The allegations of the verified complaint are as follows. CHRM is a Massachusetts nonprofit corporation whose members include parents of children who attend the Belmont and Cambridge public schools (school districts). In October 2021, each of the school districts approved a policy requiring all age-eligible students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a condition of participation in extracurricular activities. Under each school district's policy, students aged twelve and over who were not vaccinated were barred from participating in extracurricular activities. The vaccination policies included medical and religious exemptions, as well as other exemptions.

CHRM filed its verified complaint and contemporaneous motion seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief pursuant to G. L. c. 231A, § 2. CHRM alleged that (1) the school districts lacked authority to pass what it described as vaccine mandates, (2) the policies were preempted by the Department of Public Health's infectious disease regulatory scheme, and (3) the policies violated parents' rights to due process and to direct the care of their children under art. 1 and art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. A judge of the Superior Court denied the motion for the reason that, among others, CHRM did not "identify a plaintiff member, or child of the plaintiff's membership who was harmed by the policies of either defendant."


"We review the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction to determine whether the judge abused [his] discretion, that is, whether the judge applied proper legal standards and whether there was reasonable support for [his] evaluation of factual questions." Lieber v. President &Fellows of Harvard College (No. 2), 488 Mass. 816, 821 (2022), quoting Commonwealth v. Fremont Inv. &Loan, 452 Mass. 733, 741 (2008). "A preliminary injunction will not be granted if the moving party cannot demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits." Lieber, supra at 821-822.

The motion was decided on the verified pleadings and affidavits submitted by the school districts.[3] On appeal CHRM asserts that it has two bases for standing. First, CHRM contends that no showing of injury is required because it has raised constitutional claims. Second, CHRM claims it has associational standing because its members include the parents of children who are subject to the school districts' policies.

"The declaratory judgment act, G. L. c. 231A, § 1, authorizes courts to make 'binding declarations of right, duty, status and other legal relations,'" Kligler v. Attorney Gen., 491 Mass. 38, 44-45 (2022), and "may be used in the superior court to enjoin and to obtain a determination of the legality of the administrative practices and procedures of any municipal . . . agency or official wh[en] practices or procedures are alleged to be in violation of the Constitution of the United States or of the constitution or laws of the commonwealth," G. L. c. 231A, § 2. However, "[s]uch relief is appropriate only if a plaintiff can demonstrate . . . the requisite legal standing to secure its resolution" (quotation and citations omitted). Kligler, supra at 44.

"It is settled that G. L. c. 231A does not provide an independent statutory basis for standing." Enos v. Secretary of Envtl. Affairs, 432 Mass. 132, 135 (2000). This principle applies with equal force to constitutional claims. "A party has standing when it can allege an injury within the area of concern of the statute, regulatory scheme, or constitutional guarantee under which the injurious action has occurred." Doe No. 1 v. Secretary of Educ., 479 Mass. 375, 386 (2018). While standing under the declaratory judgment act is to be "liberally construed and administered," G. L. c. 231A, § 9, CHRM must, for purposes of a motion for a preliminary injunction, demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits that one of its members is at actual risk of harm. Declaratory judgment "proceedings are concerned with the resolution of real, not hypothetical, controversies; the declaration issued is intended to have an immediate impact on the rights of the parties." Galipault v. Wash Rock Invs., LLC, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 73, 84 (2005), quoting Massachusetts Ass'n of Indep. Ins. Agents &Brokers, Inc. v. Commissioner of Ins., 373 Mass. 290, 292 (1977). CHRM's claims properly fall within the ambit of G. L. c. 231A, but it is incorrect in its assertion that it need not allege or show a particularized injury.

"Where a nonprofit organization asserts associational standing on behalf of its members, it must establish that its members would independently have standing to pursue the claim." Statewide Towing Ass'n, Inc. v. Lowell, 68 Mass.App.Ct. 791, 794 (2007).[4] Here, the sole allegation of the complaint is that "CHRM has members in its organization who have children in the Cambridge and Belmont Public School Districts and are subject to the Districts' vaccine mandates." CHRM has not alleged that any of its members' children were harmed or are at risk of harm. There are no allegations that unwilling parents were compelled to vaccinate their children in order that the children might participate in extracurricular activities, that any children were excluded from extracurricular activities due to their vaccination status, that any parent applied for and was denied an exemption from the vaccination requirements, that any parent applied for and was denied a waiver of either policy, or that any member of CHRM has a child who wants to participate in extracurricular activities and will be prevented from doing so by either policy.

Relying on Entergy Nuclear Generation Co. v. Department of Envtl. Protection, 459 Mass. 319, 326-327 (2011) (Entergy), our dissenting colleague posits that if the parents and children here are subject to policies that the municipalities are without authority to promulgate, the parents should not be put to the choice of vaccinating a child whom they do not wish to vaccinate or risking the child's exclusion from extracurricular activities. Even if we were to agree, the complaint still does not contain even a general allegation that any member of CHRM has a child who wants to participate in extracurricular activities and will be prevented from doing so by either policy.[5] In the absence of an allegation that there is even one child from each municipality who is not only covered by the policy, but wants to participate in extracurricular activities without being vaccinated, the verified complaint failed to establish standing.

"Persons who ask a court to 'assume the difficult and delicate duty of passing upon the acts of a coordinate branch of the government' must demonstrate that they suffer or are in danger of suffering some particularized legal harm." Local 1445, United Food &Commercial Workers Union v. Police Chief of Natick, 29 Mass.App.Ct. 554, 559 (1990), quoting Kaplan v. Bowker, 333 Mass. 455, 459 (1956). CHRM's failure to allege any particularized harm or risk of harm to its members bars its claim of associational standing.

The order denying the motion for a preliminary injunction is affirmed.[6]

So ordered.

SINGH, J. (dissenting). The plaintiff appeals from the denial of its motion to preliminarily enjoin the Belmont and Cambridge public school districts (school districts) from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine policies enacted by them, while seeking a declaration regarding the validity of those policies. I disagree that the judge's decision must be affirmed on the basis that the plaintiff has failed to establish standing.[1]

By its complaint, the plaintiff seeks a declaration that the school districts have exceeded their authority[2] in mandating that all age-eligible school children in their districts receive COVID-19 vaccines or else be excluded from extracurricular activities. The Cambridge school district policy states that, by a date certain, "all age eligible students must be vaccinated." Both of the school district policies prohibit unvaccinated students from participating in extracurricular activities, which may include athletics, student government, visual and performing arts, clubs, and social events.

Standing to seek declaratory relief "exists where a party alleges a legally cognizable injury within the area of concern of the statute at issue." Entergy Nuclear Generation Co. v. Department of Envtl. Protection, 459 Mass. 319, 326 (2011) (Entergy). Here, the verified complaint alleges that members of the plaintiff nonprofit corporation have children in the school districts who "are subject to the Districts' vaccine mandates," and "those mandates apply to [plaintiff] members' children." These...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT