Klaassen v. Trs. of Ind. Univ.

Decision Date18 July 2021
Docket NumberCAUSE NO. 1:21-CV-238 DRL
Parties Ryan KLAASSEN et al., Plaintiffs, v. The TRUSTEES OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

Courtney Turner Milbank, Melena S. Siebert, Richard E. Coleson, James Bopp, Jr, The Bopp Law Firm, Terre Haute, IN, for Plaintiffs.

Anne K. Ricchiuto, Stephanie L. Gutwein, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

Damon R. Leichty, United States District Judge

Under guiding principles of federalism, our Constitution preserves the power of the States, within constitutional limits, to adopt laws to provide for public health and safety. Twice the United States Supreme Court has upheld state authority to compel reasonable vaccinations

. The States don't have arbitrary power, but they have discretion to act reasonably in protecting the public's health.

Students at Indiana University have a significant liberty protected by the Constitution—refusing unwanted medical treatment based on bodily autonomy. The Fourteenth Amendment says no state may "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1. Given this due process protection of liberty, longstanding constitutional law prevents a public university—an arm of the State—from mandating a vaccine for its students unless it has rationally pursued a legitimate interest in public health for its campus community.

This case presents that question: whether Indiana University has acted constitutionally in mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for its students, as announced on May 21, 2021. Albeit, and this should not be overlooked, this case does so only in the context of a preliminary injunction motion, not for a final decision on the merits.

Indiana University's policy has real implications. Students may be deprived of attending the university without being vaccinated or qualifying for an exemption. Still they have real options—taking the vaccine, applying for a religious exemption, applying for a medical exemption, applying for a medical deferral, taking a semester off, or attending another university or online. The policy applies for the fall 2021 semester only.

Eight students sued Indiana University because of its vaccination

mandate and because of the extra requirements of masking, testing, and social distancing that apply to those who receive an exemption. They ask the court to enter a preliminary injunction—an extraordinary remedy that requires a strong showing that they will likely succeed on the merits of their claims, that they will sustain irreparable harm, and that the balance of harms and the public interest favor such a remedy.

The court now denies their motion. The Constitution and longstanding precedent should endure. Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination

in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff. Today, on this preliminary record, the university has done so for its campus communities. The students haven't established a likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourteenth Amendment claim or the many requirements that must precede the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction.

FACTS
A. Parties.

Indiana University is a world-renowned public research university, with seven campuses, two regional centers, and three medical centers across the State of Indiana, providing education to over 90,000 undergraduate and graduate students and employment for over 40,000 employees [Ex. 116 ¶ 4]. The university, with its flagship campus in Bloomington, Indiana home to over 40,000 students, continually ranks as one of the top 100 universities in the country, and one of the top 150 universities in the world.

The eight students here have varied backgrounds. Jaime Carini (age 39) is a graduate student pursuing two doctorates in music, with but her examinations and dissertation to complete [Ex. 121 at 10, 19-20, 23]. She has received an exemption from the university's vaccination

requirement already [id. 57-58].

Ashlee Morris (age 26) is an incoming first year law student at the McKinney School of Law who has worked hard for six years to get there to pursue her J.D. [Ex. 123 at 10, 66-67]. She too has received a religious exemption from the university's vaccination

requirement [id. 44]. She testifies that she will not attend the law school if she must wear a mask or undergo surveillance testing [id. 66-67].

Seth Crowder (age unknown) is pursuing his MBA at the Kelley School of Business [Ex. 124 at 13]. He too has received a religious exemption from the university's vaccination

requirement already [id. 9, 20-21]. He has not decided if he will return to school if he must wear a mask or undergo surveillance testing this fall semester [id. 42].

Macey Policka (age 22) is a senior at Indiana University studying English (medieval studies) [Ex. 125 at 8-9]. She also has received a religious exemption from the university's vaccination

requirement [id. 22]. She plans to return to Indiana University regardless of the outcome of this case [id. 36-37]

Ryan Klaassen (age 19) is an incoming sophomore at Indiana University studying biochemistry [Ex. 120 at 5, 15-17]. He has received a religious exemption to the university's vaccination

requirement [id. 33]. He says he hasn't decided if he will return to Indiana University if the injunction is not granted. [id. 41-43].

Daniel Baumgartner (age 18) is an incoming freshman at Indiana University who plans to study business [Ex. 122 at 8, 12-13]. He has received a religious exemption to the university's vaccination

requirement [id. 8]. He has not decided if he will go to Indiana University this fall if he must wear a mask or undergo surveillance testing [id. 41].

Margaret Roth (age unknown) is an incoming freshman at Indiana University and has already registered for classes [Ex. 126 at 9, 20]. She has a religious objection to the vaccine but has not requested an exemption, though she would qualify, because she prefers not to wear a mask or undergo testing [id. 45-47]. She says she will most likely not attend Indiana University if the injunction isn't granted [id. 9].

Natalie Sperazza (age unknown) is an incoming sophomore who will be taking five classes this fall [Ex. 127 at 11]. She has not applied for an exemption and believes she wouldn't qualify [id. 15-16]. She says she will not attend Indiana University this fall if the policy remains in place [id. 42]. She appears to be the only student without an exemption or basis for an exemption.

B. COVID-19.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It primarily spreads through respiratory droplets, viral particles suspended in the air, and touching mucosal membranes with contaminated hands [Ex. 115 ¶ 6].1 The initial presentation of an infection ranges from no symptoms at all (asymptomatic) to severe illness and death; and even after recovery, various long-term health problems may linger [id. ¶ 8].2

Individuals with longstanding systemic health inequities or preexisting or immunocompromising conditions, and elderly individuals prove at greater risk of severe illness or hospitalization following an infection [id. ¶ 9].3 Children and young adults are less likely to experience serious illness or death from infection [Ex. 115 ¶ 10; Ex. 117 ¶ 21]. Though data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that more young adults are becoming infected with the virus than other age groups [Ex. 115 ¶ 16],4 these individuals are less likely to require hospitalization or die [id. ¶ 10].5

Worldwide COVID-19 has infected almost 189 million people and caused 4 million deaths, with these numbers still changing daily.6 In the United States, the novel coronavirus has infected over 33.5 million citizens, losing to death over 600,000 [Ex. 115 ¶ 15]. Since March 6, 2020, Indiana has had over 750,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 13,000 deaths [id. ¶ 14]. The COVID winter of 2020-2021 was particularly rough, until vaccines became options first in December 2020 and then in the early months of 2021.

As vaccination

now increases, data gathered by the CDC point toward the waning of new COVID infections across the country—down from a peak of 312,325 new cases reported on January 8, 2021, with a seven-day average positive test rate of 13.85 percent, to 39,719 new cases reported on July 16, 2021, with a seven-day average positive test rate of 5.01 percent.7 The rate of new cases today is akin, if not greater, to the rate of new cases reported during the peak of the pandemic's first wave in the spring 2020, through the relative rate of positive tests thankfully remains much lower.8

Our nation has come a long way since the darker days of 2020 that tested many people, though some uncertainty persists even now in this 2021 summer. The current seven-day moving averages of new COVID-19 cases has increased by 69.3 percent in the past week alone; the positive test rate has increased by 40.7 percent; and new hospital admissions have increased by 35.8 percent.9 Recalling the bell curves we all have become accustomed to seeing, the trend still proves sharply down from the worse days of COVID-19, but virulent and highly transmissible variants of this coronavirus present new challenges [Ex. 115 ¶ 36]. As of July 3, 2021, the CDC estimates that 57.6 percent of new cases come from the Delta variant.10 New COVID-19 cases often originate in unvaccinated individuals [Ex. 115 ¶ 38-39].

In Indiana, 561 new cases were reported on July 15, 2021; and the most recent data suggest a seven-day average positive test rate of 4.3 percent for unique individuals from July 3, 2021 to July 9, 2021, lower than the national average.11 Of all positive cases, 18.4 percent, the highest proportion of all age populations, comes from young adults...

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