California enacted SB277 on 1 July 2015. This new law removed the “personal belief exemption” (PBE) to vaccines required for school entry. The law went into effect 1 July 2016. One group filed a suit against SB277 in California courts in May; I discussed that complaint in previous article. This California SB277 lawsuit analysis is about new litigation against SB277 filed in the state. (Note, there is an update to this case, “California SB277 vaccination law – litigation update 1.”)
This second lawsuit, with a different group of plaintiffs, including Ana Whitlow, was filed in a federal district court on 1 July 2016. The suit was brought by several individual plaintiffs and a number of organizational plaintiffs. It contained both state and federal claims, claims on constitutional grounds, and claims that focused on implementation of the act.
As the complaint states, California has had a personal belief exemption from its school immunization requirements since at least the 1960s. The complaint does not note that between 1996-2010, California’s exemption rate increased 380%, from 0.5-2.3%. The increase continued until at least 2014.
While the number never went over 3%, the exemption rate was not evenly distributed: some areas and some schools had much higher rates of PBEs than others, making them hot spots for outbreaks. In 2010, California experienced a dramatic outbreak of pertussis in which ten babies died. Pertussis has continued to circulate at a higher rate than in the past. While the pertussis outbreak was partly the fault of a less effective vaccine, studies repeatedly found that areas with high rates of exemptions were more vulnerable to outbreaks.
In 2014, California had the highest rate of measles since 1994, and the famous 2015 measles outbreak caused even higher numbers. This background led the California Legislature to reconsider its immunization policy – already tightened once, in 2012 – and to decide to remove the personal belief exemption.
Understandably, those influenced by anti-vaccine claims were distressed by the new legislation. These parents evidently feel trapped, caught between a reluctance to vaccinate their children and their desire for their children to access educational opportunities, now closed to them by the new law’s provisions. Hence the lawsuit.
This complaint does not suffer from the lack of professionalism and the severe problems of the previous claim, filed by a different attorney in state court.
Nevertheless, while you can never be certain how a court will decide, my best assessment is that the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims have very low chances of success. While some of the statutory issues call for interpretation, they won’t lead to the law being struck down. And several of their implementation claims suffer from serious procedural problems.
Note that the discussion here refers both to the content of the complaint itself and the content of the memorandum submitted in support of the Temporary Restraining Order – both together present the plaintiffs’ arguments.
The complaint also tries to reframe the narrative drawing on anti-vaccine factual claims that are either misleading or downright incorrect. My focus in this post is on the legal claims, but I will touch on a few of the counter-factual assertions.Read More »California SB277 lawsuit analysis – anything there?