TRENTON, N.J. — The health care worker who sharply criticized being quarantined at a New Jersey hospital last year because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa said in a lawsuit filed Thursday that Gov. Chris Christie and the state health department illegally held her against her will.

Attorneys for Kaci Hickox filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in Newark on Thursday. The lawsuit also names former state Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd and other health department employees. Hickox is seeking at least $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Maine sought to impose a home quarantine on Hickox after she went from New Jersey to Fort Kent, where she was living with her boyfriend, but a judge refused to allow it.

Hickox, 34, is a nurse who was working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone during last year’s deadly Ebola outbreak. She was stopped when she arrived at Newark Liberty International airport and questioned over several hours before being sent to stay in quarantine in a tent outside a hospital in Newark, despite having no symptoms of the disease.

“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,” Hickox said in a statement.

A spokesman for Christie didn’t respond to a request for comment. O’Dowd said she hadn’t received the lawsuit and referred comment to the state health department, which said it does not comment on pending litigation.


After Hickox came to Maine from New Jersey, Maine officials asked a judge to impose a home quarantine on Hickox. The judge refused, but imposed three restrictions on Hickox, including daily health monitoring.

The ACLU of Maine said Thursday afternoon that it is not aware of any planned litigation in Maine. The organization said it is not working with its New Jersey counterpart on Hickox’s case there but endorsed the fight against “draconian quarantine laws.”

“As we said when Ms. Hickox faced the threat of involuntary quarantine in Maine, extreme measures like mandatory quarantines raise serious concerns about government overreach, not to mention frighten the public,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, in a written statement. “Our response to public health situations should be guided by sound medical science, not by fear.”

While Hickox was quarantined in New Jersey, Christie said he sympathized with her but he had to do what he could to ensure public health safety.

She was the first person forced into New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine for health workers who had come into contact with Ebola patients, after Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a stronger quarantine policy than federal standards. Their plan came under fire from the White House and medical groups.

Hickox, who was a Maine resident at the time and now lives in Oregon, said she was stopped at the Newark airport and was questioned over several hours after touching down. She said numerous people questioned her, including “a man who spoke to Hickox aggressively as if she were a criminal and was wearing a weapon belt.”

While she didn’t have a fever when her temperature was first taken, she said she was told by a medical staffer using a temporal scanner that she did have a fever. Hickox said that was due to her being flushed from frustration, but that led to her being taken to the hospital – escorted by several police cars with lights and sirens blaring.

Her lawsuit lays out a series of temperature readings that were elevated when checked with a temporal thermometer, but normal when taken orally. A statement from O’Dowd that night said Hickox was being quarantined because she had developed a fever. The next day, Christie described her as “obviously ill.” She said her mother later called her, afraid that she might be sick because of Christie’s comment.

Hickox tested negative for Ebola in two tests, but was kept quarantined for more than two days. She was then driven to Maine, where she almost immediately decided against following the state’s voluntary quarantine. A judge later gave her the OK to go wherever she pleased as long as she continued daily monitoring of her health.

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