Ebola Quarantines Lead To Civil Rights Lawsuit
February 12, 2016
“New Haven -- A group of Yale law school students filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of Connecticut Monday, alleging Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's quarantine order during the 2014 Ebola outbreak was haphazardly enforced, scientifically unsound and steeped in political considerations stoked by sensationalist media coverage.
"Gov. Malloy, locked in a tight race for reelection, [granted] the state Department of Public Health sweeping authority to quarantine anyone entering Connecticut from West Africa,'' said Emma Roth, a law student intern who helped to craft the lawsuit. The plaintiffs include two Yale public health graduate students and six members of a family from Liberia. They were quarantined for 21 days, even though none of them had the disease.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages as well as an injunction preventing Connecticut from quarantining others in the future, "except when justified by science and done in conformity with the requirements of due process and non-discrimination,'' Roth said during a press conference at Yale Law School announcing the lawsuit.
Five members of Assunta Nimley-Phillips' family came to the state in October of 2014, amid mounting fears of Ebola in the U.S. The family, which including four children aged 11 to 20, had not been exposed to the disease and were cleared for arrival. But they were nevertheless ordered quarantined in Nimley-Phillips' basement for three weeks, after Malloy, a Democrat, issued an executive order granting the state public health commissioner the authority to quarantine an individual or group of individuals exposed or infected with the Ebola virus.
Nimely-Phillps was told to monitor the family members' temperatures, but the state health officials "never provided me with any information about how to take care of them,'' she said. "They never provided me with any kind of supplies to monitor their health, not even a thermometer."
"I wish the state officials had first considered the cost of their decision to those of us who were directly affected," said Nimely-Phillips, who is also a plaintiff. "I never again want someone to go through what my family and I experienced."
In the fall of 2014, Ryan Boyko, a Yale graduate student, was in Liberia helping establish a system for monitoring people exposed to the disease. When he returned to the U.S., he developed a low-grade fever. Tests showed he did not have Ebola but he too, was quarantined under the terms of Malloy's executive order.
"There was no scientific justification for quarantining me so my personal freedom was sacrificed so Connecticut could seem tough on Ebola,'' Boyko said during the press conference. "It was awful, I was isolated from my classmates and professors, unable to keep up with work at my lab or my teaching responsibilities. my girlfriend had to move out and find emergency housing with no help from the state. I could have no visitors or step outside my small apartment, even for a minute, worst of all I had to go weeks without seeing my son, the most important person in the world to me."
Even now, more than a year after the experience, Boyko said he continues to suffer. He has left his Ph.D program. after his work was interrupted. He is also concerned about the lingering impact the order could have on public health workers, who may be dissuaded from venturing into outbreak zones because they could face quarantine upon return to the U.S.
"Public health decisions should be made based on science and the science is clear,'' Boyko said. "[The]....quarantine is unjustified and ultimately harmful to all the citizens of Connecticut."
In addition to Boyko, Nimely-Phillips and members of her family, the plaintiffs include a current public health student quarantined upon her return from a humanitarian trip to Liberia in fall 2014; a West African family of six that was quarantined in October 2014; a religious leader who travels between churches in West Haven and Liberia and his wife; the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut; and a physician who specializes in emergency medicine and has treated Ebola patients in West Africa.
Malloy spokesman Christopher McClure said the administration appreciates "the enthusiasm and ambition of some of our youngest legal minds and of course continue to be impressed by the quality of the education Yale provides its students."
But, McClure said, "our first priority remains protecting the public from both foreseeable and unforeseeable harms — whether it be storms or disease or otherwise. We are going to continue to be prepared for any contingencies and take the necessary steps to provide the protection the public expects."
Source: By Daniela Altimari - Hartford Courant