People quarantined in Connecticut during the height of the 2014 Ebola crisis sued Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state health officials on Monday, saying the quarantine policy the governor imposed is unconstitutional.
The complaint, filed by Yale law students in federal court, seeks unspecified monetary damages and an end to the policy Malloy and former Connecticut Department of Public Health chief Jewell Mullen put in place in October of 2014. Present acting health Commissioner Raul Pino is also named as a defendant.
The plaintiffs in the case, who include a Liberian family and two Yale graduate students, were quarantined in their homes for 21 days with police officers posted outside their residences, even though none of those quarantined had showed any Ebola symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tightened its Ebola protocol during the outbreak, requiring travelers who arrived in the United States from Ebola-stricken countries to be closely monitored for 21 days by public health officials to make sure they didn’t develop a fever.
Several governors, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, expanded on the CDC’s guidelines, but none required travelers from Africa to be quarantined if they were symptom-free unless they had been in contact with an infected individual.
None of those quarantined in Connecticut had been in contact with an infected individual.
“Defendants Mullen and Malloy knew that their policy and practice of quarantine was retrograde and ill-suited to contemporary public health challenges,” the lawsuit says.
Malloy spokesman Christopher McClure said the lawsuit is a product of youthful exuberance.
“We appreciate 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,” McClure said. “However, 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.”
At a press conference in New Haven on Monday, second-year law student Emma Roth said Connecticut rejected CDC guidelines.
“Instead, Governor Malloy, locked in a tight race for re-election, purportedly gave the Connecticut Department of Health authority to quarantine anyone entering the United States from Africa,” said Roth, who helped draft the lawsuit.
She is the co-author of a report on Ebola quarantines in the United States released in December by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership.
Assunta Nimley-Phillips, a native of Liberia who has been living in Connecticut for more than 25 years, was visited by her family from Liberia during the epidemic. Upon reaching Connecticut, those family members were immediately quarantined for 21 days in the basement of Nimley-Phillips’ house.
“My sister and her family were so excited to come to Connecticut, but when they arrived, they did not feel welcome…they were treated like criminals,” Nimley-Phillips said.
She and those visiting family members are plaintiffs.
So are two Yale School of Public Health doctoral students, Laura Skrip and Ryan Boyko, who traveled to Liberia to help authorities there combat the epidemic but had no contact with infected people.
Boyko tested negative for Ebola before he left Liberia. But a couple of days after he returned to the United States he developed a mild fever.
“Everything spun out of control very quickly,” he said.
He was hospitalized and again tested negative for Ebola, but was quarantined for 21 days anyway.
Boyko said he was kept from his classmates and his professors, “but worst of all I was kept from seeing my son.”
He said his lab work was interrupted, he sought psychological care for the emotional impact of the quarantine, and he dropped out of his doctoral program.
The lawsuit says that, “Even after state officials released the Liberian residents and public health workers, the stigma created by the quarantines continued to affect them and their communities. “
“Neighbors and co-workers shunned Liberian immigrants living in Connecticut. Colleagues and administrators told public health students who had traveled to Liberia to help stop the epidemic that they were ‘selfish’ for putting Connecticut at risk,” the complaint says.
Another plaintiff, Bishop Harmon Yalartai, said Liberians in Connecticut “experienced terrible stigma because of the quarantines, which sent a clear message to our neighbors that Liberians were dangerous – even though no one in Connecticut ever had Ebola.”
The Liberian Community Association of Connecticut is also a plaintiff.