Elijah Behringer challenges the legality of COVID mandates leading to his suspension

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo and the County of San Luis Obispo could be entering court as a former student has filed a civil lawsuit against the university and several administrators — including the SLO County Health Officer — for violations of his federal and state rights. 

Elijah Behringer is challenging the university and county against the legality of their COVID mandates that resulted in his suspension as a student there in January 2022. 

Behringer, an electrical engineering student from San Bernardino County, attended Cal Poly for two years until the school denied him access to classes and university facilities in January 2022, according to the filed complaint. He is represented by Behringer Law (a Carlsbad-based law firm), per the filed complaint. 


According to the court records, the defendants included in the suit are:

  • Cal Poly 
  • Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong 
  • Cal Poly Assistant Vice-President for Campus Health & Wellbeing Tina Hadaway-Mellis
  • Cal Poly Lead Coordinator for COVID Help at Campus Health & Wellbeing Valla Hardy 
  • Cal Poly Assistant Director of the Disability Resource Center Amy Gode
  • San Luis Obispo County, a political subdivision of the state that provides municipal services, including law enforcement and public health services. 
  • County Director of Public Health Penny Borenstein

In filed documents provided in the complaint, Armstrong issued a Presidential Order to go into effect on Oct. 14, 2021. It ordered students to adhere to COVID-19 requirements such as wearing a mask, undergoing COVID-19 vaccinations or testing — all of which Behringer refused. 

In September 2021, Behringer skipped enrollment with the intentions to return in January 2022. However, court filings say that in December 2021, he received an email from Hadeway-Mellis and Hardy who “demanded that Elijah participate in an ongoing COVID-19 testing program to attend class or be banned due to non-compliance. Elijah refused to be injected with a COVID-19 vaccine, wear a mask over his face, or submit to COVID-19 testing,” per court documents.

Behringer requested an exemption, which he says was denied a month later, and he was subsequently suspended from the university.

Atascadero News reached out to Cal Poly for a response to the complaint. 

The university’s Assistant Vice President for Communications and Media Relations, Matt Lazier, acknowledged receipt of the complaint. 

“The university is not commenting on the litigation at this time, given that the legal proceedings are ongoing and because FERPA and other privacy laws strictly limit the information the university can share or discuss publicly related to specific students,” he said.

Behringer notes that students are entitled to a hearing from Cal Poly administration in accordance with the student handbook. The handbook — which can be viewed online at osrr.calpoly.edu/process — reiterates that students have the right to a hearing if they do not agree with “proposed sanctions.” However, he was denied a formal hearing and then denied access to attend class, violating due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

Within the complaint’s conclusion section, the plaintiff wrote the following without citing any health measure efficacy studies or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

In the court filing’s conclusion, the plaintiff says, “Threatening populations into wearing suffocating material and getting injected with laboratory concoctions doesn’t only fail to preserve the public welfare, it is catastrophic to the public welfare. Likewise, those people who assaulted Elijah’s freedom and terminated his education — all while parroting hollow appeals to ‘science’ and ‘safety’ — have a lot to answer for.”

They continued with the regard to COVID protocols, “By extorting tens of thousands of students, staff, and faculty into undergoing invasive medical procedures in exchange for government funding, Cal Poly acted as an apparatus of organized crime (see paragraph 17 and footnote 5 on page 7, Exhibit 2 on page 32, and Exhibit 3 on page 40). The only legitimate purpose of government is to protect property ownership, including the sanctity of the body. Neither San Luis Obispo County nor Cal Poly had any legitimate interest in using medical devices to molest massive numbers of people — with no basis in any intelligible emergency.”

Behringer incurred $41,433.19 in costs for his degree before being suspended from Cal Poly. The relief section highlights these costs as damages requiring compensation. This raises concerns about the entire system of paid public education, as Behringer argues that the consequences of his suspension exceed those of certain criminal convictions.

For the “issue of relief,” the plaintiff is requesting:

  1. A jury trial on all triable issues, 
  2. Judgment against Cal Poly, Jeffrey Armstrong, Tina Hadaway-Mellis, Valla Hardy, Amy Gode, San Luis Obispo County, and Penny Borenstein, on all counts pleaded in the List of Counts within this complaint, 
  3. Compensatory damages of at least $41,433.19 
  4. Threefold the compensatory damages in accordance with the civil remedies afforded to victims of terrorism under 18 U.S.C. §2333 as pleaded in this complaint under 18 U.S.C. §2331, 
  5. A proper punitive damages award to deter the type of misconduct outlined in this complaint, 
  6. Any applicable statutory damages or penalties,
  7. Compensation for any fees and costs of suit, and 
  8. Any other relief found just and reasonable by this Court.

This is a developing story. Atascadero News is following this story and will provide more information as it becomes available.