Nurse Quarantined During Ebola Panic Can Move Forward With Part of Suit Against Christie, Federal Judge Says
Christie and his administration must show that they acted in good faith
Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was quarantined against her will in a makeshift tent in Newark after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, will be able to continue her state claims against Governor Chris Christie and his administration. A federal court judge ruled that under New Jersey law, Hickox has the right to challenge the involuntary detention. Governor Christie, along with others responsible for her detention, will be subject to the discovery process, including depositions. Hickox was held in a makeshift tent in an unheated parking garage despite showing no valid symptoms of Ebola for three days in October 2014.
“One thing is certain: this decision vindicates my rights by giving me the opportunity to find out from Governor Christie directly whether the decision to detain me was motivated by science or by politics,” Kaci Hickox said. “Christie was ultimately responsible for my detention, and he should have to answer for it and show it was made in good faith.”
The decision (PDF), issued by United States District Court Judge Kevin McNulty, compels Christie and the other New Jersey officials responsible for the quarantine to demonstrate that their decision was made in “good faith.” Therefore, the case will seek to determine where the quarantine was based on medical and scientific reasons rather than political ones.
“This decision means Kaci Hickox will continue her fight to hold Governor Christie and New Jersey officials accountable for their decision to detain her,” said Steve Hyman of McLaughlin and Stern. “Kaci Hickox will have her day in court.”
Represented by the ACLU-NJ, as well as the New York law firms Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans and McLaughlin & Stern, Hickox in March filed a brief that contended the quarantine imposed by Governor Chris Christie, then-Commissioner of Health Mary O’Dowd and other health department officials violated Hickox’s “clearly established” constitutional rights to have freedom from unlawful seizure, freedom from unnecessary restraints, and due process of law.
“Kaci Hickox deserves the right to know why the Governor held her against her will, and now she will have that opportunity,” said Norman Siegel of Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans. “The decision to take away someone’s freedom is one of the gravest an official can make.”
The decision lets Hickox move forward on her claims under state law. That includes a claim against Gov. Christie for stating publicly that she was “obviously ill” when she was not. However, her challenges under federal law were dismissed. The judge held that the defendants have qualified immunity from claims raised under federal law because her rights in this instance were not “clearly established.”
“Kaci Hickox can’t undo the loss of liberty and dehumanizing treatment she experienced under the orders of Governor Christie, but she can demand answers about whether the Christie administration truly believed her detention was medically justified,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas.
The decision also acknowledged that irrational fears can surround medical scares such as the panic concerning Ebola at the time Hickox returned to the United States from Sierra Leone.
Read the opinion (PDF), as well as the initial complaint (PDF) and response (PDF) to the motion to dismiss.
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