MANEY V. BROWN, No. 22-35218 (9th Cir. 2024)Annotate this Case
A group of current and former inmates, or their representatives, filed a class action lawsuit against Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon, and Patrick Allen, the Director of the Oregon Health Authority, claiming that the state's COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, which prioritized corrections officers over inmates, violated their Eighth Amendment rights. The defendants moved to dismiss the claim, asserting immunity under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. The district court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, finding that the defendants were immune from liability for the vaccine prioritization claim under the PREP Act. The court held that the statutory requirements for PREP Act immunity were met because the "administration" of a covered countermeasure includes prioritization of that countermeasure when its supply is limited. The court further concluded that the PREP Act's provisions extend immunity to persons who make policy-level decisions regarding the administration or use of covered countermeasures. The court also held that the PREP Act provides immunity from suit and liability for constitutional claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, even if those claims are federal constitutional claims.
Court Description: PREP Act Immunity. Reversing the district court’s denial of Oregon State Governor Kate Brown and Director of the Oregon Health Authority Patrick Allen’s motion to dismiss a claim brought by Oregon state inmates for damages stemming from defendants’ assignment of a lower priority COVID-19 vaccination tier to state inmates than to correctional officers, the panel held that defendants were immune from liability for the vaccination prioritization claim under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (“PREP”) Act.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Brown and Director Allen, both responsible for crafting the state’s response to the virus’s spread, established priority tiers to guide the state’s vaccine rollout, and assigned state prison inmates to a lower priority vaccination tier than correctional officers.
On March 17, 2020, the Secretary of Health and Human Services issued a declaration announcing that COVID-19 constituted a public health emergency and that immunity as prescribed in the PREP Act was in effect for the “manufacture, testing, development, distribution, administration, and use of” covered countermeasures.
The panel held that the statutory requirements for PREP Act immunity were met with respect to the vaccine prioritization damages claim because the “administration” of a covered countermeasure includes prioritization of that countermeasure when its supply was limited. The panel further concluded that the PREP Act’s provisions extend immunity to persons who make policy-level decisions regarding the administration or use of covered countermeasures.
The panel next held that the PREP Act provides immunity from suit and liability for constitutional claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although the PREP Act does not specifically mention § 1983, Congress used terms that plainly and unambiguously define a broad scope of immunity that includes claims brought under § 1983. Congress, therefore, intended to expressly immunize covered persons from § 1983 actions for claims covered by the PREP Act, even if those claims are federal constitutional claims.