A New York State Supreme Court Justice recently ruled the state’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers is “null, void and of no effect.”

Justice Gerard Neri ruled the state overstepped its authority by mandating the vaccine, siding with Medical Professionals for Informed Consent, a group of medical workers impacted by the mandate.

Following the ruling, the state’s Department of Health said publicly it “strongly disagrees” with the judge’s ruling, calling the mandate a “critical public health tool” in protecting people most at risk, as well as the people who care for them. The state said it is considering all options going forward, setting the stage for an almost certain appeal.

Issued as an emergency mandate in 2021 under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York Department of Health adopted the mandate as a permanent regulation in June of 2022. The mandate states:

“Covered entities shall continuously require personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, absent receipt of an exemption as allowed below. Covered entities shall require all personnel to receive at least their first dose before engaging in activities covered under paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of this section” (10 NYCRR §2.61(c)).

Medical Professionals for Informed Consent argued a permanent mandate was prohibited by New York law, including. Public Health Law §206(1)(1), which gives the Department of Health the authority to:

“establish and operate such adult and child immunization programs as are necessary to prevent or minimize the spread of disease and to protect the public health. Such programs may include the purchase and distribution of vaccines to providers and municipalities, the operation of public immunization programs, quality assurance for immunization related activities and other immunization related activities. The commissioner may promulgate such regulations as are necessary for the implementation of this paragraph. Nothing in this paragraph shall authorize mandatory immunization of adults or children, except as provided in sections twenty-one hundred sixty-four and twenty-one hundred sixty-five of this chapter” (Public Health Law § 206(1)(1), emphasis added).

Justice Neri found the executive branch of government had usurped the power of the legislative branch by permanently mandating vaccines. From the ruling:

“Respondents are clearly prohibited from mandating any vaccination outside of those specifically authorized by the Legislature. The sections cited by Respondents provide nothing more than general grants of power. Reading those sections in the manner urged by Respondents would render Public Health Law §§206, 613, 2164, and 2165 meaningless. “It is well settled that in the interpretation of a statute we must assume that the Legislature did not deliberately place a phrase in the statute which was intended to serve no purpose.”

Harris Beach’s Health Care Industry Team will continue monitoring this situation and keep you informed of developments. Should you have questions about this subject or related topics, please feel free to reach out to team leader Roy W. Breitenbach at (516) 880-8378 and rbreitenbach@harrisbeach.com, or to the Harris Beach attorney with whom you most frequently work.

This alert is not a substitute for advice of counsel on specific legal issues.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York state, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse and White Plains, as well as Washington D.C., New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.