Woodruff v. Caris MPI, Inc., 21-11249

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
PartiesJoseph Woodruff; Erica Jobe; Mandee Katz; Scott Babjak, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Caris MPI, Incorporated; Caris Life Sciences, Incorporated, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket Number21-11249
Decision Date28 September 2022

Joseph Woodruff; Erica Jobe; Mandee Katz; Scott Babjak, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

Caris MPI, Incorporated; Caris Life Sciences, Incorporated, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 21-11249

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

September 28, 2022

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas USDC No. 3:21-CV-2993

Before JONES, HO, and WILSON, Circuit Judges.


Defendants Caris MPI, Inc. and Caris Life Sciences, Inc. (collectively, "Caris") required their then-employees, Plaintiffs Joseph Woodruff, Erika Jobe, Mandee Katz, and Scott Babjak, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or


face termination. Following the denials of their exemption requests, Plaintiffs sought a TRO, preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing their termination, or, alternatively, an injunction ordering their reinstatement pending resolution of their respective complaints with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC"). Following a hearing, the district court denied the preliminary injunction request based on a lack of irreparable harm, but it did not reach the alternative request, which was not yet ripe. After Plaintiffs appealed, Caris fired them. Caris moves to dismiss the appeal. We VACATE as moot the district court's order denying injunctive relief but REMAND for further proceedings.

Caris implemented a policy on September 17, 2021 that required its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on or before December 1, 2021. Employees who worked exclusively from home were excluded from the mandate, and others could seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Non-compliant, non-exempt employees were subject to termination.

Woodruff, Jobe, Katz, and Babjak each requested religious exemptions, while Jobe and Katz also sought medical exemptions. Caris denied those requests.[1] It also declined to grant any appeals. Plaintiffs then filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC"). Babjak received a notice of Charge of Discrimination, but the record reflects no additional activity involving the EEOC.[2]


On November 30, Plaintiffs concurrently filed a complaint and an application seeking a TRO, preliminary and permanent injunctions. First, Plaintiffs sought to "enjoin CARIS from enforcing its vaccine mandate and firing [them] because the mandate is illegal because it violates Governor Abbot's [Executive Order GA-40]." That first basis for injunctive relief relates to Plaintiffs' claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) for a declaration that the vaccination mandate violates GA-40. Second, Plaintiffs sought "injunctive relief pending the outcome of their EEOC complaints." This second basis for injunctive relief relates to Plaintiffs' religious discrimination claims under Title VII and disability discrimination claims under the ADA, asserted by Katz and Jobe.

On December 1, the district court held a hearing and orally denied Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, following up with a formal order two days later. The court ruled exclusively on the ground that Plaintiffs failed to establish a substantial threat of immediate and irreparable harm if their application was not granted. Plaintiffs timely appealed.

Caris terminated Woodruff, Jobe, and Katz soon after the court's order, and it terminated Babjak almost three months later for his failure to comply with the vaccine policy. Plaintiffs seek in this appeal the relief not mentioned by the district court, "reinstatement of their positions while awaiting [] a decision from the EEOC." Plaintiffs' appeal is limited to their Title VII claims. Because they mention neither the request for declaratory relief based on GA-40 nor Katz's and Jobe's ADA claims, those issues are forfeited. Caris filed a merits brief in response and moved to dismiss the appeal as non-justiciable due to mootness or lack of standing. This court carried the motion to dismiss with the case.

We review questions of federal jurisdiction, including mootness and standing, de novo. Envtl. Conservation Org. v. City of Dallas, 529 F.3d 519, 524 (5th Cir. 2009)


(citation omitted); see also James v. City of Dallas, 254 F.3d 551, 562 (5th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Whether mootness or standing analysis comes first is discretionary because a reviewing court can "choose among threshold grounds for denying audience to a case on the merits[.]" Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 585, 119 S.Ct. 1563, 1570 (1999). Because this appeal is moot, we need not address standing.

"A case becomes moot-and...

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