Mask mandate in schools; Mootness; Denial of a preliminary injunction; Free-exercise claim; Commonwealth v. Beshear; Monclova Christian Acad v Toledo-Lucas Cnty Health Dep’t; Tandon v Newsom; Equal protection claim; Substantive due process claim; Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS)
[This appeal was from the WD-MI.] The court held that plaintiffs’ challenges to the MDHHS’s Orders requiring school children to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were not moot just because they had been rescinded. Applying rational basis review, it held that they were “rationally related to a legitimate government interest”—controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan. Plaintiffs were a Catholic school in Michigan and two parents of children attending the school. They challenged Michigan’s mask requirement in grades K-5 in all schools as a violation of their rights to free exercise of religion, equal protection, and substantive due process. The district court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction. On appeal, the court first considered defendants’ motion to dismiss the appeal as moot where the MDHHS has rescinded the challenged mask requirement. They asserted that this left the court without jurisdiction to consider the case. But it held that exceptions to the mootness doctrine applied where it was not “‘absolutely clear'" that Michigan would not reimpose a mask mandate and where “the injury is ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review.’” The court then considered plaintiffs’ “likelihood of success on the merits” of each claim to determine whether the preliminary injunction was properly denied. As to their free-exercise claim, they argued that “wearing a mask in the classroom violates their Catholic faith[,]” and that the court should apply “strict scrutiny.” But the court held that rational-basis review applied. It further agreed with the district court’s application of Beshear and its conclusion “that because the requirement to wear a facial covering applied to students in grades K–5 at both religious and non-religious schools, it was neutral and of general applicability.” It also noted that “all exceptions to the MDHHS Orders were available to” plaintiffs. Thus, the court held that the “Orders do not violate the Free Exercise Clause because the MDHHS Orders are neutral and of general applicability and satisfy rational-basis review.” It also held that the equal-protection claim was “meritless” where plaintiffs could not show that the state had treated them differently than similarly situated persons. Further, their substantive due process claim was merely “duplicative” of their free-exercise claim and “without merit.” Affirmed.
Full Text Opinion
State Bar of Michigan
306 Townsend St
Lansing, MI 48933-2012