Motion to consolidate cases challenging mandatory vaccination program made to Illinois Supreme Court

Illinois Supreme Court justices

The Illinois Supreme Court | Photo courtesy of IllinoisCourts.gov

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has made a motion to the Illinois Supreme Court to consolidate several similar cases in Illinois counties into one that challenges the orders from the state of Illinois establishing a COVID-19 vaccination and testing program for school personnel, healthcare workers and state employees.

A case involving employment claims from suspended and terminated workers from Blessing Health System and Quincy Medical Group would be among the cases to be consolidated.

Each case seeks similar declaratory or injunctive relief to nullify vaccination or testing requirements for those employees.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 384 states, “When civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact or law are pending in different judicial circuits, and the Supreme Court determines that consolidation would serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and would promote the just and efficient conduct of such actions, the Supreme Court may, on its own motion or on the motion of any party filed with the Supreme Court, transfer all such actions to one judicial circuit for consolidated pretrial, trial, or post-trial proceedings.”

If approved, the consolidated case would be heard in Sangamon County Circuit Court. Sangamon County was determined to be an appropriate venue because the office of the governor, as well as the headquarters for the Illinois State Board of Education and one of two Illinois Department of Public Health offices, are in Sangamon County.

Raoul’s motion read, “Allowing one court to resolve the threshold legal questions will avoid the expenditure of resources before multiple courts, as well as the risk of conflicting rulings and ensuing public confusion.” 

A suit was filed in late September by Velvet Darnell, Julina Kirby, Rebecca Bliefnick, Jennifer Hermann, Rosalba McCoy, Alisa Leckbee, Mary McNally, William Blackford, Kim Norton, Brandi Ruzich and Sarah Knight against Quincy Physicians and Surgeons Clinic (also known as Quincy Medical Group) and Blessing Corporate Services, representing Blessing Health System. The plaintiffs objected to being vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 because it violates their moral conscience. As a result, they face “imminent termination of their employment.”

Judge Tad Brenner granted a temporary injunction Sept. 30 in Adams County Circuit Court. It allowed Blessing and QMG employees to “maintain” their employment until a full hearing on the claims. Brenner then entered an order on Oct. 4 adding the Illinois governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health as “necessary parties” to the legal action.

On Oct. 27, Brenner extended the temporary restraining order to Dec. 7.

Lambert v. Pritzker, Case No. 2021-MR-001283, is the case that would be heard in Sangamon County. Plaintiffs Elizabeth Lambert, a teacher at Illinois West School District 30, and Heather Groutage, an employee of Bushnell-Prairie City Community Unit School District 170, filed a complaint on Sept. 14 against Gov. JB Pritzker. 

The governor ordered in August that teachers and staff at pre-k through 12th grade schools, as well as personnel and students at higher education institutions, would be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 5. Lambert and Groutage claim the governor’s order is invalid because:

  • Pritzker lacked authority under the Illinois Constitution and Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act to require that schools follow the vaccination or testing program; 
  • The order impermissibly requires local school boards to implement quarantines in violation of the Illinois Department of Public Health Act.
  • The vaccination and testing procedures violate the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights;
  • Pritzker’s failure to provide a religious exemption from the testing requirements constitutes religious discrimination.

Another case from Adams County, as well as one from Hancock County, also would be consolidated with the Sangamon County case. 

Jean R. Glass, Jesse J. Fowler, Trina Tangerose, Valerie L. Gregory and Mike Winters filed their suit on Nov. 1 in Adams County. Each plaintiff is employed either directly or via agency contracts by the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

Each plaintiff alleges they have a moral objection to being vaccinated or submitting to testing for COVID-19. 

In the Hancock County case, Don Wenck, a teacher in Warsaw Community Unit School District 316, claims he was suspended and then discharged from his teaching position for “declining to be quarantined by way of a face mask without a formal order of quarantine.”

Other cases to be consolidated with Lambert v. Pritzker are from Kane, McLean, Peoria, Piatt and Vermillion counties. Each case names Pritzker as a defendant, and all but one case names the Illinois Department of Public Health as a defendant. 

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