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United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
September 2, 2016, Decided; September 2, 2016, Filed
Civ. No. 15-7647 (KM)
[*584] KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.:
This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). The plaintiff, Kaci Hickox, is a nurse who cared for individuals affected by the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, specifically in Sierra Leone. Upon her return to the United States, Ms. Hickox was stopped at Newark Liberty International Airport while her health was monitored. Hickox alleges that this quarantine, which [**2] lasted approximately 80 hours, violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Hickox also alleges that defendants committed the New Jersey common law torts of false imprisonment and false light.
Hickox sues various State officials involved in her quarantine: Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey; Mary O'Dowd, then the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health ("DOH"); Christopher Rinn, Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness of the DOH; and Gary Ludwig, the Service Director of the Communicable Disease Service of the DOH.
It is plain that Ms. Hickox was upset not only by the quarantine itself, but by what she saw as an inefficient, unfriendly, and opaque process. As she sees it, there was a lack of communication regarding the quarantine and what would happen to her. It is also clear that Hickox disagreed with the assessment of her medical condition throughout the quarantine process.
Bad science and irrational fear often amplify the public's reaction to reports of infectious disease. Ebola, although it has inspired great fear, is a virus, not a malevolent magic spell. The State is entitled to some latitude, however, [**3] in its prophylactic efforts to contain what is, at present, an incurable and often fatal disease.
Nurse Hickox lent her medical skills to a humanitarian effort to relieve the suffering of people she had never met. Her courage and service perhaps merited a warmer welcome home. The issue here, however, is different: I am called upon to determine whether Hickox has stated a legally cognizable claim for damages under the Constitution or the common law. Now before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, I will grant the motion to dismiss the federal claims on grounds of qualified immunity. Public health officials responsible for containing the spread of contagious disease must be free to make judgments, [*585] even to some degree mistaken ones, without exposing themselves to judgments for money damages. As to the state causes of action, however, I will deny the motions to dismiss.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
205 F. Supp. 3d 579 *; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121621 **
KACI HICKOX, Plaintiff, v. CHRISTOPHER JAMES CHRISTIE, et al., Defendants.
quarantine, Ebola, disease, CDC, qualified immunity, detention, infection, public health, civil commitment, confinement, temperature, exposure, notice, fever, thermometer, patient, civil commitment case, rights, allegations, readings, blood, isolation, measures, spread, healthcare worker, incubation period, motion to dismiss, due process, recommendation, immunity