This Week in Opinions: Vaccine Safety, School Violence, Prison Hunger Strikes and The Jones Act


The DC Circuit released an opinion about vaccine safety this week. In Coal. for Mercury-Free Drugs v. Sebelius, the Court found that plaintiffs did not have standing to sue the FDA for failing to prohibit the use of vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal on young children and pregnant women. The court concluded that plaintiffs were not required to receive thimerosal-preserved vaccines, they could readily obtain thimerosal-free vaccines, they did not have standing to challenge the FDA’s decision to allow other people to receive the vaccines, and plaintiffs could advocate that the Legislative and Executive Branches ban the vaccines. As a result, plaintiffs were suffering no cognizable injury as a result of the FDA’s decision to allow the vaccine, their lawsuit was not a proper subject for the Judiciary.

The 7th Circuit released a decision about school violence, something that’s been in the news a lot in recent weeks. In Hannemann v. S. Door Cty. School Dist., the Court held that a school may bar a permanently expelled student from its school gym facilities. The student was expelled for threatening violence at the school. The Court found that as a member of the public, the plaintiff student had no protected liberty interest in accessing school grounds and the school had no obligation to provide him with process in connection with the ban.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on involuntary feeding of a prisoner on hunger strike. In Comm’r of Corr. v. Coleman, the Court upheld an injunction allowing the Department of Correction to restrain and force-feed Defendant to prevent life-threatening dehydration and malnutrition. Defendant was subsequently force-fed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court properly determined that (1) the state’s interests outweigh Defendant’s common-law right to bodily integrity; (2) the forcible administration of artificial nutrition and hydration to Defendant does not violate his constitutional right to free speech and privacy; and (3) international law does not prohibit medically necessary force-feeding under such circumstances.

Finally, the Washington Supreme Court issued an opinion involving maritime law and the Jones Act. In Clausen v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc., the Court upheld a jury verdict against Icicle Seafoods, which found Icicle negligent under the Jones Act, and that Icicle was callous or willful and wanton in its failure to pay maintenance and cure of an injured seaman. The company paid him only $20 a day, which forced the plaintiff to live in a trailer with no heat, running water, or toilet facilities. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that under federal maritime law, the trial court calculates an attorney fee award related to a maintenance and cure action, and the punitive damages award as determined by the jury here, based on the callous or willful and wanton withholding of maintenance and cure, was proper.