Judge tosses COVID vaccine objections of hundreds of Hanford and PNNL workers

·3 min read

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by 314 Hanford nuclear reservation and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory workers in Richland over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

The lawsuit was filed in November to halt enforcement of President Biden’s executive orders requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for DOE employees and the employees of contractors and subcontractors on federal projects.

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

With the original complaint already amended once, he had no confidence that they could file another amended complaint to addressed 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 councilman and director and attorney for the Silent Majority Foundation in Pasco, which organized the lawsuit.

Rice had already refused to temporarily halt enforcement of the vaccine mandates while the lawsuit was argued.

The judge said that 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 in the case 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.”

Hundreds gathered in a north Richland parking lot along Stevens Drive in early November to rally against federal COVID vaccine mandates on behalf of Hanford and PNNL workers.
Hundreds gathered in a north Richland parking lot along Stevens Drive in early November to rally against federal COVID vaccine mandates on behalf of Hanford and PNNL workers.

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.

Lawsuit defendants dismissed

In their amended complaint the plaintiffs in the case dropped their claims against seven managers of Hanford contractors.

The judge had questioned why the lawsuit was filed against the executives of Hanford contractors, saying they are private employees of private companies which did not issue the executive order.

Hanford was used to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War. Environmental cleanup is underway now.
Hanford was used to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War. Environmental cleanup is underway now.

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.

Rice also found in his final ruling that two of the three remaining defendants in the case — Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Brian Vance, the Department of Energy Hanford manager — could not be held liable for an order that came from the White House.

That left only President Biden as a defendant in the case as Rice dismissed it.

The 580-square-mile 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. Now about $2.5 billion annually is spent on environmental cleanup of the contaminated site.

PNNL is a DOE Office of Science laboratory in Richland operated by Battelle under a DOE contract. It employs about 5,350 people and has an annual budget of about $1.25 billion.

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