Nurse Kaci Hickox Challenges Detention in Newark a Year After Ebola Panic
The ACLU of New Jersey has teamed up with two New York law firms – Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans and McLaughlin & Stern -- to represent Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was detained last year in Newark after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, in a challenge to New Jersey’s draconian quarantine policies.
The lawsuit (PDF), filed in U.S. District Court in Newark almost a year after her detention, charges that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and then-Commissioner of Health Mary O’Dowd illegally and unconstitutionally held Hickox against her will as part of a mandatory quarantine (PDF) for anyone returning from certain West African countries who treated patients with Ebola.
Hickox landed at Newark Liberty International Airport on October 24, 2014, en route home to Maine from West Africa. She was ordered to be held against her will despite showing no symptoms and engaging in no activities in Sierra Leone that would have put her at a high risk for contracting Ebola. She was first held at Newark Liberty International Airport, and soon after at University Hospital in Newark. Even after the negative blood test, New Jersey held Hickox for an additional two days, stretching her confinement to more than three days.
“I never had Ebola. I never had symptoms of Ebola. I tested negative for Ebola the first night I stayed in New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s private prison,” Hickox said. “My liberty, my interests and consequently my civil rights were ignored because some ambitious governors saw an opportunity to use an age-old political tactic: fear.”
Hickox is suing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd, and other health department officials. The suit claims they violated Hickox’s rights by depriving her of due process and unlawfully seizing, detaining and quarantining her, while relying on fear rather than science to justify her confinement.
“When Kaci Hickox was held against her will a year ago, it was unconstitutional, illegal, and unjustified,” said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel of Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans. “Kaci knew her rights, and today she is fighting for them.”
Steve Hyman of McLaughlin & Stern said, “While this lawsuit has been filed to vindicate Kaci’s constitutional rights, an important corollary of this action is to change the existing New Jersey quarantine policy so that what happened to Kaci will not happen to another health care worker on their return.”
Hickox was held in a field tent in an unheated parking garage at University Hospital in Newark. She had access to a portable toilet but not a shower, and had to ask for extra blankets. Ultimately, she was released and allowed to return to Maine.”
”The decision to quarantine anyone must be made based on science, not fear and politics,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “In holding Kaci Hickox, the governor and the former head of the Department of Health not only violated her basic constitutional rights, but they did so without any scientific foundation. Now, a year later, we are proud to help Kaci vindicate those rights.”
The suit is captioned Hickox v. Christie, et al.