A judge has dismissed federal claims Gov. Chris Christie violated the constitutional rights of a nurse quarantined because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa.
US District Judge Kevin McNulty agreed with state lawyers that the Republican governor and state health officials are immune from the federal civil rights charges brought by nurse Kaci Hickox. But he ruled in a decision published last week that Hickox can proceed with parts of her lawsuit alleging false imprisonment and invasion of privacy.
Hickox was working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone during the deadly Ebola outbreak in 2014. She was stopped when she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport and was questioned and quarantined. She later tested negative for Ebola and was allowed to go to Maine, where she lived at the time. She now lives in Oregon. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Hickox in the case. Ed Barocas, legal director for the ACLU in New Jersey, said the judge’s decision means that Christie and other state officials will have to go through the discovery process to show they acted in good faith in quarantining Hickox.
Hickox said 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,” she said in a statement. “Christie was ultimately responsible for my detention, and he should have to answer for it and show it was made in good faith.”
State lawyers maintained that health workers acted with the public’s safety in mind when they had Hickox quarantined and that Christie and the other officials are immune from lawsuits over public health quarantines. The state argued that the primary objective of Christie, then-health commissioner Mary O’Dowd and other officials was the “safety and general welfare” of the public during the Ebola virus outbreak.
The outbreak of Ebola, which is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, killed thousands of people in Africa. Only a few people were treated for Ebola in the United States. The judge wrote in his decision that “bad science and irrational fear often amplify the public’s reaction to reports of infectious disease.” He wrote that Ebola is a virus and not a “malevolent magic spell” but that the state should have some latitude in its efforts to contain it.
Hickox’s remaining allegations include a false light claim against Christie for saying that she was “obviously ill.” Her lawsuit seeks at least $250,000.