A little over a year ago, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie essentially dared a nurse to sue him after she was placed under mandatory quarantine in Newark, even though she tested negative for Ebola. And now, she’s doing just that.
Kaci Hickox, 34, has filed a lawsuit in federal court – with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union – against Christie and other state officials, alleging she was unconstitutionally held against her will and was deprived due process.
Hickox had been in Sierra Leone treating Ebola patients with the group “Doctors Without Borders.” When she flew back to the U.S. last October through Newark International Airport, en route to her home state of Maine, she was quarantined under a brand new policy under Christie and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Under the plan, instituted at the height of the Ebola scare, all arriving air travelers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa were to be quarantined for 21 days, the disease’s maximum incubation period. Several medical experts and the White House consequently criticized the plan, which was stricter than federal standards. Others defended the new protocol, pointing to Craig Spencer, a doctor who began showing symptoms well after he came back to New York from West Africa.
“I never had Ebola. I never had symptoms of Ebola. I tested negative for Ebola the first night I stayed in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s private prison,” Hickox—who now lives in Oregon—said in a statement. “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.”
The nurse’s lawyer, Steve Hyman, told msnbc “There was no medical reason that could be enunciated for keeping her in quarantine.” Hyman argued Christie, who is now running for president, “pandered to the fear that was in the American populace at the time.” After being held in a quarantine tent in Newark for 80 hours, Hickox was allowed to return to Maine, which also wanted to quarantine her. But a judge ruled she could come and go as she pleases as long as she kept health officials in the loop.
Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, would not comment on the lawsuit (which seeks damages of $250,000), saying the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Gov. Christie, also declined to comment.
The lawsuit described the conditions of Hickox’s quarantine as being in in a tent in an unheated parking garage at University Hospital in Newark. She had access to a portable toilet, but no shower and had to ask for extra blankets. Hyman said Hickox could only talk to people through a plastic window.
“Hickox was tired from jetlag and traveling for two-days, hungry, thirsty, confused and emotionally exhausted. No one told her what was going on or what was going to happen to her,” said the lawsuit.
Christie at the time argued he was doing what was best for the health and safety of those in the region. After Hickox threatened to sue the governor, Christie responded in his signature, blunt style. “Whatever. Get in line. I’ve been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I’m happy to take it on.”