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A federal judge will hear a motion on May 18 to dismiss a lawsuit chal­lenging a local health agency’s quar­antine order last year. Among other things, the order required school­children who had been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 to be quarantined. 

Health Officer Rebecca Burns of the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Com­munity Health Agency issued the order on Sept. 22, 2021, replacing a Sept. 3 quar­antine order.

Stacy Wohlheter’s son and daughter attend Reading Com­munity Schools, and the health agency required them to quar­antine under the Sept. 3 order. Wohlheter and Jen­nifer Wortz, another Reading Com­munity Schools parent and the chair of Moms for Liberty Branch and Hillsdale County, filed a lawsuit in the First Judicial Circuit Court for the County of Hillsdale  against Burns, the health agency, and the school dis­trict on Sept. 27, 2021. 

In the com­plaint, Daren Wiseley, the attorney for the moms, their children, and Moms for Liberty, argued that the Sept. 22 quar­antine order cited laws and an admin­is­trative rule that did not justify the order. He also argued the quar­antine orders vio­lated the Four­teenth Amendment’s due process clause.

On Sept. 29, 2021, Demo­c­ratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a budget bill for the 2022 fiscal year. Under the bill, local health depart­ments would not receive funds for “essential local public health ser­vices” if the local health officer had any emer­gency order related to an epi­demic in effect as of October 1, 2021, without approval from a county board of commissioners. 

Burns rescinded the Sept. 22 quar­antine order on Sept. 30. 

Wortz said the lawsuit is still important because the budget bill was tem­porary and did not solve the problem of unelected offi­cials issuing health orders. 

“It’s a clause in the budget that was approved for this year,” Wortz said. “It’s not a per­manent thing, and nothing per­manent has been passed, because they’ll pass a bill — it’ll pass in the house; it’ll pass in the senate, but then the gov­ernor will veto it, and they don’t have enough con­ser­v­a­tives or democrats willing to vote with them to override her veto.” 

In November, the school dis­trict and the health agency removed the case to United States Dis­trict Court for the Western Dis­trict of Michigan. The defen­dants could choose to have the federal court decide the case instead of the state court because the case related to the Four­teenth Amendment. 

After removing the case to the Western Dis­trict of Michigan, the defen­dants asked Judge Hala Jarbou to dismiss the plain­tiffs’ complaint. 

In Reading Com­munity Schools’ motion to dismiss, the school district’s attorney Travis Com­stock argued the court does not have juris­diction over the case because the health agency rescinded the orders and pub­licly stated it would not reissue them. 

Wiseley said the case should not be dis­missed since the plain­tiffs’ rights were violated. 

“The problem is, one, people’s rights were still vio­lated; there was still harm,” Wiseley said. “Not only that, but this needs to be lit­i­gated so this doesn’t happen again.”

A hearing on the motion to dismiss will be held before Mag­is­trate Judge Phillip Green on May 18. 

Com­stock and Burns declined to comment on the case. Andrew Brege, the attorney for Burns and the health agency, and Chuck North, the super­in­tendent of Reading Com­munity Schools, did not respond to requests for comment.