Case: Holden v. Zucker

801592/2021E | New York state trial court

Filed Date: Feb. 4, 2021

Closed Date: March 29, 2021

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This was a case about vaccine eligibility for incarcerated New Yorkers. On February 4, 2021, two people incarcerated at Rikers Island filed this lawsuit in Supreme Court of the State of New York, Bronx County. The plaintiffs sued the Commissioner of Health for New York State and the Governor of the State of New York under Article 78, the state’s analogue to the Administrative Procedure Act. Represented by the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, t…

This was a case about vaccine eligibility for incarcerated New Yorkers. On February 4, 2021, two people incarcerated at Rikers Island filed this lawsuit in Supreme Court of the State of New York, Bronx County. The plaintiffs sued the Commissioner of Health for New York State and the Governor of the State of New York under Article 78, the state’s analogue to the Administrative Procedure Act. Represented by the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Brooklyn Defender Services, the plaintiffs requested that the court vacate and annul the agency determination that excluded incarcerated people from Vaccine Priority Category 1b and order the respondents to immediately modify this category to include the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs alleged that incarcerated people were arbitrarily and capriciously excluded from this category, in violation of Article 7803(3), the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and Article 1, §11 of the New York State Constitution. 

In their complaint, the plaintiffs also sought to certify the class of “all persons who are, or will be, incarcerated in New York City Department of Correction facilities who do not fall in vaccine priority category 1a or 1b by virtue of a status other than their incarceration and have not been authorized to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.” 

On March 18, 2021, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ Article 78 petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of standing, and failure to state a cause of action. They also filed a memorandum of law in support of their motion to dismiss and in opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The defendants stated that vaccinations became available gradually, that they had to prioritize eligibility based on risk, and that they intended to vaccinate all adult inmates when enough doses were available. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs’ petition sought to have the court supplant the executive as policymaker for the distribution of limited vaccines to the millions of New York residents.

They argued, further, that the plaintiffs did not have standing. The defendants alleged that neither plaintiff had averred that he would personally take the vaccine. Thus, the plaintiffs could not demonstrate injury. For the same reason, the defendants argued, the plaintiffs were inappropriate class representatives. Defendants also argued that the plaintiffs, who had not alleged that to have suffered from any health problems, were not similarly situated to those in congregate care facilities, and that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the Department of Health’s eligibility determinations were not rationally connected to the state’s legitimate goal of distributing vaccinations with respect to need.

On March 29, 2021, the court granted the plaintiffs’ Article 78 petition for an order (1) vacating and annulling the defendants’ determination that incarcerated people as a group should be excluded from present vaccination eligibility and (2) instructing the defendants to amend present eligibility criteria to include incarcerated individuals. The court explained that the plaintiffs, who existed in a congregate setting, faced an increased risk of infection. The defendants had already prioritized vaccine eligibility for residents in all other congregate settings. This included juveniles in detention centers, who, by virtue of their age, were at a significantly lower risk of serious complications from COVID-19 than incarcerated adults. The court also noted that, contrary to CDC guidance, the defendants had made correctional workers eligible for vaccination without similarly making incarcerated individuals eligible. The court concluded that this evidence demonstrated that the DOH’s regulation was arbitrary and capricious, in violation of Article 7803(3), the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and Article 1, §11 of New York’s constitution.

The court also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and commented on class certification. First, the court concluded that the plaintiffs made the proper showing for a preliminary injunction. As discussed, the court found that the plaintiffs had succeeded on the merits. It also found that the plaintiffs were at risk of serious and irreparable harm prior to vaccination and that the equities tipped in their favor. Next, the court addressed the defendants’ standing argument. It concluded that the plaintiffs desired vaccination and thus were harmed by their ineligibility. With respect to the class certification issue, the court concluded that the plaintiffs’ injury rebutted the defendants’ claim that plaintiffs were improper class representatives but that certification was premature under New York law and plaintiffs were able obtain precisely the same relief without certification.

The last docket entry located was the trial court’s opinion granting the plaintiffs’ requested relief. Presumably, the issue of eligibility became moot shortly thereafter. On March 30, 2021, the day after the opinion was issued, all New Yorkers age thirty or older became eligible for vaccination. On April 6, eligibility was expanded to New Yorkers age sixteen or older.

The case is now closed.

Summary Authors

Evan Gamza (5/21/2022)

People


Judge(s)

Tuitt, Alison Y (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Coleman, Ilona Beth (New York)

Fischer, Elizabeth Anne (New York)

Mathews, Ann Helen (New York)

Philip, Meghna (New York)

Ponder, Emily Elizabeth (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Schulman, Steven Neil (New York)

Judge(s)

Tuitt, Alison Y (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Coleman, Ilona Beth (New York)

Fischer, Elizabeth Anne (New York)

Mathews, Ann Helen (New York)

Philip, Meghna (New York)

Ponder, Emily Elizabeth (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Schulman, Steven Neil (New York)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Opinion

New York state supreme court

March 29, 2021 Order/Opinion

New Document

None

None None

Docket

Last updated May 19, 2022, 2:46 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: New York

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Jail Conditions

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Key Dates

Filing Date: Feb. 4, 2021

Closing Date: March 29, 2021

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Incarcerated individuals unvaccinated against COVID-19

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Legal Services/Legal Aid

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Bronx Defenders

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Mooted before ruling

Defendants

New York State Department of Health (Albany, Albany, New York), State

Defendant Type(s):

Hospital/Health Department

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Content of Injunction:

Discrimination Prohibition

Preliminary relief granted

Issues

General:

Conditions of confinement

Disparate Treatment

Medical/Mental Health:

Medication, administration of

COVID-19:

COVID vaccination ordered

Mitigation Denied

Mitigation Granted

Mitigation Requested