AG Landry backs out of vaccine lawsuit against medical college

State of Louisiana had no real party interest in claim against VCOM, court filing says

By: - August 5, 2021 8:06 pm
AG Landry back out of medical college vaccine lawsuit

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry attends a Senate committee meeting in Baton Rouge on April 19, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).

Two days after filing a lawsuit against a private medical college in Northeast Louisiana, Attorney General Jeff Landry has withdrawn and is no longer a party in the claim that three students were allegedly punished for refusing to comply with the school’s coronavirus vaccine requirement.

Landry joined three students from Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that claims the college denied their requests for a religious exemption to the school’s vaccine requirement and claims the school threatened that they would be ostracized by the medical community for refusing the vaccine. 

VCOM Provost Dr. Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, contested those claims and called on the attorney general to stop using the vaccine as a political issue. 

“It is simply time for the vaccine to no longer be used as a political issue but to be one recognized as a measure needed for public health and safety,” she wrote in an emailed statement to the Illuminator on Wednesday.

Landry’s decision to withdraw came after the judge asked the plaintiffs to explain why the State of Louisiana should be a party to the lawsuit.

“The State of Louisiana is not a real party in interest to the instant proceeding, as the State has only a general governmental interest in securing compliance with its laws,” Michael DuBos, an attorney for the three students, wrote in the latest court filing Thursday.

DuBos wrote that Landry would instead seek to file an amicus brief to support the students’ restyled complaint against the medical college.

For now the lawsuit will remain in Monroe’s federal courtroom with only the students as plaintiffs, whom court records identify as Rachel Lynn Magliulo, a Florida native and current resident of Ouachita Parish, and Lincoln parish residents Matthew Shea Willis and Kirsten Willis Hall. 

VCOM is a fully private medical college that leases space on the University of Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) campus. It did not receive any state money for its building or operations. However, over the last several weeks, Landry exchanged letters with Tooke-Rawlins, the school provost, and threatened to sue if the school did not change its policy requiring students to get the vaccine. 

The school carved out several alternatives for the three students and formed a COVID-19 committee, which is scheduled to meet Friday to weigh the students’ requests for religious exemptions. VCOM also received permission from the Louisiana Department of Health to institute its vaccine mandate. Landry moved forward with the lawsuit anyway, filing the claim the same day Louisiana recorded its highest ever number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Other private colleges in Louisiana, including Tulane, Dillard and Xavier, have instituted similar vaccine mandates, but Landry has not sued them — an issue raised by Tooke-Rawlins in a July 29 response to the attorney general.

“I do not know why you have chosen VCOM as an example (over the other four private institutions in the state which have declared requiring vaccination and the same requirements),” she wrote. “I do hope that you will allow VCOM time to complete our processes. Once again, the students have not been denied any admission to campus, have not been denied any education to date, and no one has provided any act of retaliation.” 

The lawsuit cites a section of Louisiana Revised Statute 17:170(E), which allows students to submit a medical excuse or a “written dissent” to be exempt from a school’s vaccination requirement. However, the next section of that statue states:

In the event of an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease at the location of an educational institution or facility enumerated in Subsection A of this Section, the administrators of that institution or facility are empowered, upon the recommendation of the office of public health, to exclude from attendance unimmunized students and clients until the appropriate disease incubation period has expired or the unimmunized person presents evidence of immunization.” 

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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