Federal Judge Reinstates Damage Claim against Top Admiral in Navy SEAL Vax Case

(Washington, D.C. – March 20, 2024) – A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia reversed, in part, her prior ruling dismissing our lawsuit challenging the military COVID-19 vaccination mandate on behalf of four Navy SEALS.

After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed on mootness grounds our request for a preliminary injunction because the military had subsequently rescinded the vaccine mandate, the district court immediately dismissed our entire lawsuit on mootness grounds.

We promptly filed a motion for reconsideration.

As we pointed out in our motion (which was filed nearly a year ago), unlike other challenges to the vaccine mandate, we included a claim for damages against Admiral Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the SEALS had lost special duty pay and suffered other economic hardships as a result of his decision to deny religious exemptions to the mandate.

Admiral Gilday was the final decision maker for the Navy as to whether a religious exemption would be granted.

In her ruling, the federal judge agreed with our position, concluding, in relevant part:

The Supreme Court made clear that the RFRA’s “express remedies provision permits litigants, when appropriate, to obtain money damages against federal officials in their individual capacities.”  Tanzin v. Tanvir, 592 U.S. 43, 52 (2020).  . . . As such, the Court shall grant in part Plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider this issue and reinstate their individual capacity claim against Defendant Admiral Gilday.

The parties have until April 16 to submit a “joint status report.”