A federal court had rejected the lawsuit by six U.S. Merchant...

A federal court had rejected the lawsuit by six U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadets challenging the school's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Six U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadets who challenged the King Point school's vaccine mandate have officially dropped their legal challenge, two weeks after a federal judge refused to block the policy.

The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by attorneys for the six cadets on Monday, according to documents filed in the U.S. Eastern District.

The move comes after U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Joan Azrack refused to block USMMA's COVID-19 mandate, arguing the college's policy is of "critical national interest" and a safeguard for public health.

The 14-page ruling rejected a request by the cadets for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order preventing the USMMA from enforcing the mandate.

In October, the school announced that all first-year plebes and second-to-fourth-year midshipmen must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 28 — the same deadline the Department of Defense issued for other service members — or be disenrolled from the academy.

In November, the cadets sued, naming the U.S. Maritime Administration and Department of Transportation, which has oversight over the nation's maritime academies.

"The Academy and DOD mandates are a rational policy decision made to safeguard the health and safety of the United States military — a critical national interest," Azrack wrote. "It simply does not shock the conscience that the Department of Defense and Academy would mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, with certain exemptions, in order to do so."

Staten Island attorneys Mark Fonte and Louis Gelormino, who represent the cadets, did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawyers contended that vaccination was never a requirement for attending the academy and the mandate provides no exceptions for weekly testing, or for those who developed antibodies from previous COVID-19 exposure. Midshipmen could also risk incurring disenrollment penalties, the lawsuit stated, including paying back the USMMA $260,000, the value of four-year tuition.

"It is simply unlawful and unfair to change the conditions of enrollment in the middle of their tenure at the school," the attorneys said in November. "Many of these cadets would have chosen different career paths had this requirement been in place at the time of their commitment to the academy."

Azrack wrote that while the court lacks jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims, the case would fail on its merits because the mandate is in the public interest and doesn't prevent unvaccinated cadets from pursuing private-sector careers in maritime shipping.

"There is a significant public interest in safeguarding the health and safety of the plebes and midshipmen at the Academy," Azrack wrote. "Furthermore, the public’s interest in military readiness and efficient administration of the federal government outweighs plaintiffs’ speculative claims of job-related, pecuniary loss and loss concerning potential tuition repayment."

Last month, James Knapp, chief of the Long Island civil division for the Eastern District, wrote that the lawsuit should be rejected because unvaccinated students still have the option to seek a medical or religious exemption.

"It is only a student who refuses to make the choice who may face discipline up to and including disenrollment," Knapp wrote.

The USMMA, which trains men and women to be midshipmen on deep sea vessels and in the military, has yet to issue final procedures on how to process requests for medical or religious exemptions and has said it will hold off on disenrolling students until those guidelines are released.

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