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Victory: Detained Nurse’s Ebola Suit Secures Due Process

July 27, 2017

Kaci Hickox’s settlement with Christie Administration creates quarantine ‘Bill of Rights’

The Christie Administration has agreed to put in place new rules regarding quarantines to guarantee due process as the result of a suit filed by the nurse who was unfairly detained by Governor Chris Christie, advocates announced today. In addition to procedural protections, the changes will ensure that quarantine only occurs when medically necessary. Kaci Hickox’s team has described it as a “Bill of Rights” for those subject to quarantine and isolation.

Kaci Hickox, who was detained in Newark Airport after coming back from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, reached an agreement (PDF) with the State of New Jersey to ensure that people facing situations similar to hers will have their rights protected. Hickox was represented by attorney Norman Siegel, attorney Steve Hyman, and the ACLU of New Jersey.

"We've achieved what was needed: procedures that will ensure that no one will have to go through what I experienced in New Jersey, and that no one will be quarantined unless it is medically necessary to do so," said Kaci Hickox. "The settlement upholds the principles and values of liberty and due process."

The settlement recognizes the right of the quarantined individual to retain counsel and consult with a lawyer, challenge their quarantine, have a hearing, send and receive communications, have visitors, present evidence, and cross-examine witnesses.

Hickox landed at Newark Liberty International Airport on October 24, 2014, en route home to Maine. She was 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.

"The settlement of Kaci Hickox's lawsuit creates a new ‘Bill of Rights’ for individuals subject to possible quarantine or isolation in New Jersey and sets a model for other states to replicate," said attorney Norman Siegel of Siegel Teitelbaum and Evans, who began representing Hickox when she was still confined to a tent in Newark.

After detention at the airport, 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. Even after a negative blood test, however, New Jersey held Hickox for an additional two days, stretching her confinement to more than three days. She filed suit to challenge her detention in 2015.

Under the agreement:

  • Quarantine or isolation will be imposed only when medically and epidemiologically necessary to prevent the spread of Ebola.
  • When those measures are carried out, they must be in the least restrictive means to prevent the spread of Ebola, and after less restrictive measures have been explored.
  • To authorize quarantine, there must be a comprehensive order documenting information such as the legal authority under which the order is issued, the medical basis of the isolation, and a statement explaining the right to retain an attorney and appeal, among other provisions.

“Our government has a responsibility to consider the rights of anyone they detain, and for Kaci Hickox, that obligation was not honored,” said Steve Hyman of the law firm McLaughlin and Stern. “Because of Kaci Hickox, the New Jersey government will not be able to make any quarantine decisions without providing people with opportunities to assert their rights.”

The new policy is extremely thorough, dictating rules for items such as thermometer standards, and it mandates the New Jersey Department of Health ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the treating physician for their opinions on whether quarantine is appropriate.

“This is a victory of justice and science over fear,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Kaci Hickox had the right to challenge her unwarranted detention, and because of her fight for due process, those rights for New Jerseyans are now more secure.”


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