The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday sided with the state Board of Emergency Medical Services in a dispute over the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for emergency medical responders.

The Law Court’s ruling upholds a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a group of more than 100 plaintiffs claiming that the Maine EMS, a bureau in the Department of Public Safety, overstepped its statutory authority by requiring EMS workers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Law Court found that the administration followed the appropriate procedure in 2021, when the rule was first adopted by the Maine EMS Board that August.

The board took action after hearing several hours of testimony from dozens of EMS workers, many of whom said the mandate eliminates medical autonomy and will force some to leave their jobs at a time when staffing shortages are already prevalent.

The plaintiffs argued that the directive should have been considered a major substantive rule, requiring the approval of lawmakers, rather than a routine technical rule that can be adopted by an agency. But the state’s high court disagreed with that argument, saying the Maine Emergency Medical Services Act of 1982 delegates broad rulemaking authority, including licensing standards, to the EMS board.

“The statute unambiguously delegates to the EMS board rule-making authority regarding qualifications of EMS personnel, and its statutory purpose clearly vests the EMS board with the responsibility of creating standards and qualifications for such personnel,” the ruling states.


“Because the enabling statute gave a broad grant of authority to the EMS board to promulgate rules related to the EMS program, the EMS immunization rule was consistent with the purposes of the EMS Act, and the EMS board followed the applicable rule-making process for the promulgation of the EMS immunization rule, we affirm the court’s judgment.”

In 2022,  a federal judge dismissed a similar lawsuit brought by other Maine health care workers who wanted to be exempt for religious reasons from a broader COVID-19 vaccine mandate that applied to hospital workers and other health care personnel, not including EMS workers.

That lawsuit against Gov. Janet Mills and other state officials argued that the state’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 trampled on their religious freedoms.

A federal judge dismissed the case, saying that the workers failed to prove several claims, including that the COVID-19 vaccine requirement was different than any other vaccine requirement imposed on health care workers. The judge also concluded that the mandate wasn’t discriminatory because it allowed medical exemptions but not religious exemptions, and that hospitals and state officials hadn’t conspired to deprive health care workers of their constitutional right to free exercise of religion.

Maine dropped the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for health care workers last summer.

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