An appeals court Thursday denied a motion by nine Maine health care workers to remain anonymous in their lawsuit against Gov. Janet Mills and others over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health workers.

The 14-page ruling, which the Portland Press Herald obtained Thursday night, gives the plaintiffs and their lawyers until Friday, July 8, to either comply with the order by having their identities unsealed or appeal the ruling by the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston to the Supreme Court.

Holly Meade, spokesperson for Liberty Counsel, which represents the healthcare workers – identified in court documents as John Does and Jane Does – said Thursday night that Liberty Counsel is still weighing its options. Liberty Counsel, a conservative, religious law firm based in Florida, has participated in several lawsuits against Maine and other states over COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. Nationally, the firm also has opposed safe and legal access to abortions and same-sex marriage.

“We are evaluating the situation right now and have not made a decision yet,” Meade replied in an email when asked if Liberty’s clients would appeal.

The nine plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last August, before the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers at designated Maine health care facilities went into effect on Oct. 29, 2021.  The plaintiffs argued that it was their religious right to refuse the vaccine over their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions were used to develop the vaccines. Maine’s mandate does not allow for religious exemptions.

Named as defendants in the suit were Gov. Janet Mills, Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as several health care agencies.


The lawsuit prompted several Maine newspapers to intervene in an effort to force the plaintiffs to be identified. The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a motion in November 2021 challenging the group’s right to file the complaint anonymously. The newspapers argued that the plaintiffs “alleged fear of harm no longer outweighs the public’s interest in open legal proceedings,” according to court documents.

On May 31, U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy ruled that the plaintiffs cannot remain anonymous and ordered them to file an amended complaint containing their names by June 7. In his ruling, Levy said that the “plaintiffs’ religious beliefs and their resulting medical decisions not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, whether considered separately or together, do not present privacy interests so substantial as to support pseudonymous proceedings. In the final analysis, however, there is a near-total absence of proof that their expressed fears are objectively reasonable.”

The plaintiffs appealed the June 7 deadline and Levy on June 17 gave the plaintiffs until July 8 to comply with his decision, a ruling that appellate court judges upheld Thursday.

“Because the plaintiffs likelihood of success on the merits turns on their showing a reasonable fear of harm, it follows that the plaintiffs have not established a threat of irreparable harm. Denial of the stay itself does not constitute irreparable harm under these circumstances,” the justices wrote. “The public interest and the media intervenors’ interests weigh in favor of denying the stay due to the presumption of public access.”

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