Liberian Community Association of Connecticut et al. v. Dannel P Malloy, Governor, et al.

No. 3:16-cv-00201-AVC
Download Judgment: English

Defendant Governor Dannel Malloy declared a public health emergency in Connecticut in March 2014, in response to an Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This Emergency Declaration authorized Defendant Dr. Mullen, the State Commissioner of Public Health, to quarantine individuals whom she reasonably believed were at risk of passing the Ebola virus. On October 16, 2014 Malloy and Mullen announced all individuals, including asymptomatic, arriving from an affected country were to quarantine at home for 21 days.

The defendants quarantined eight uninfected, low risk or no-risk individuals, the plaintiffs in this action. Ryan Boyko and Laura Skrip were screened and cleared by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) upon entering the United States from travel in Liberia. Despite Mr. Boyko’s blood test for Ebola returning negative and Ms. Skrip’s lack of symptoms, both were ordered to quarantine for two weeks. No written notice of rights or information about how to challenge the quarantine was provided. A judicial probable cause hearing was also not initiated. As a result of the quarantine, Mr. Boyko experienced a deterioration in his relationships and an inability to satisfy professional and educational obligations. Ms. Skrip also suffered professional consequences. Both plaintiffs’ apprehension interrupted their ability to perform public health work and inflicted emotional distress.

On October 18, 2014, the Mensah-Sieh family moved to the U.S. from Liberia. They were cleared by CDC upon arrival, but two days later, Dr. Mullen ordered the six family members to quarantine and enforced this confinement with 24/7 police presence outside their home. The defendants failed to provide the family with adequate resources, including food. The defendants also failed to provide a written quarantine order or other information about quarantine practices, like the right to judicial review of the order. No judicial probable cause hearing was initiated. The family experienced physical discomfort, fear, shame, delays in school enrollment and employment, stigmatization, as well as a more difficult adjustment to settling in the United States because of this quarantine.

On October 27, 2014 the Ebola policy and practice was revised, mandating only active monitoring for low-risk, asymptomatic travelers arriving from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. However, the eight Plaintiffs were forced to continue their quarantines. The Emergency Declaration was terminated on April 1, 2016, several months after the three countries were deemed Ebola-free.

The District Court ruled that the Plaintiffs were barred from obtaining damages on the basis that the government official who ordered the quarantine did not violate clearly established law and that any damages claims are barred by qualified immunity. The District Court also held that the broader group of Plaintiffs, including those who regularly travel to West Africa, failed to obtain protection from future unjustified quarantine for lack of standing.

The Court held that the plaintiffs’ claims for violation of substantive due process should not have been dismissed. First, damages claims should not have been barred by qualified immunity since according to due process and the Fourth Amendment, a quarantine should only have been imposed if it was scientifically justified and procedurally sound. Second, rules of substantive due process state that officials may only impose quarantines when necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and in absence of less restrictive means. Dr. Mullen knew or should have known that the quarantines were unnecessary and less restrictive alternatives, like a self-monitoring regime, would have sufficed to protect public health. The plaintiffs were neither symptomatic nor unwilling to comply with less restrictive measures. After the revised quarantine policy went into effect, there was a failure to end the Plaintiffs’ mandatory quarantines. Thus, substantive due process was violated by the lack of necessity and scientific justification for these quarantines.

The Court held that the Plaintiffs claim for violation of procedural due process should not have been dismissed. Dr. Mullen did not comply with established procedures in the Connecticut General Statute and violated the Due Process Clause as she failed to provide notice of the case and the opportunity for hearing to the eight plaintiffs. Dr. Mullen also failed to provide an individuated assessment of risk and an opportunity to seek post-deprivation judicial review. Finally, these damages claims cannot be dismissed based on qualified immunity since the Defendant made no specific argument with respect to this, and the burden of pleading and proving qualified immunity rests on the Defendant.

The Court held that the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment Rights were violated. The defendants did not obtain affirmative judicial approval to order quarantines. There was also no probable cause since the people under quarantine were not sick or a public health risk simply because they arrived from a country with an Ebola outbreak. For these reasons, the quarantine policy was not reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The Court held that the plaintiffs have standing. Three Plaintiffs in Liberia faced an imminent threat and well-founded fear of unconstitutional quarantine upon their return to Connecticut. Furthermore, the predictions of re-occurring Ebola outbreaks and subsequent unlawful quarantines were not conjectural. The substantial likelihood of future quarantines inflicted harm on the plaintiffs by restricting their freedom of movement and creating monetary, time, and personal costs of travelling to Liberia and other countries with Ebola. The plaintiffs also experienced continuing present adverse effects or actual harm, such as stigmatization and inability to meet professional or work obligations, due to these quarantine policies. For these reasons, the requirements for standing were met.

The Court held that the plaintiffs’ prospective relief claims were not moot as they had a current, live interest in a prospective injunction that will mitigate harm suffered by the quarantine policies and practices. They had an interest in ending the policy as it would leave future unlawful quarantines highly likely. The claim was justiciable under the mootness doctrine as durational barriers would prevent full litigation during the maximum period of quarantine and the Plaintiffs’ familial, professional, and religious ties to Liberia create a reasonable expectation that they may be subject to unlawful quarantine again.

The Court held that the District Court erred in denying class certification. The class members had suffered harms and faced a clear risk of future unlawful and scientifically unjustified quarantines by the Defendants. More than 100 Connecticut residents, such as those born in or who travel to West Africa, faced a real and immediate risk of unlawful and unjustified quarantine. Thus, the previous denial of class certification was premised on errors of fact and should be vacated.

“Because quarantines—a form of civil detention— implicate fundamental liberty interests, existing law clearly establishes that officials may impose them only when necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and in the absence of less restrictive means.” (At Page 30)

“scientific consensus existed well before the 2014 epidemic that Ebola cannot be transmitted until a person develops symptoms. Quarantine of asymptomatic individuals is therefore unjustified unless they are unwilling or unable to comply with a monitoring regimen.” (At Page 37)

“The District Court found Dr. Mullen’s detention of Plaintiffs reasonable because they ‘were returning from a region that was suffering from a devastating Ebola crisis . . . .’ JA-191 (Slip Op. at 38). On this theory, officials could detain hundreds of thousands of persons traveling from a disease-affected country, without regard to CDC guidance or scientific consensus, their (non)exposure to anyone with the disease, or any scientifically-grounded assessment of their (non)threat to the public health. For instance, on this reasoning, every person who attended the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil could have been quarantined because they were ‘traveling from a [Zika]-affected country.’ JA-132 (Slip Op. at 1). This is not the law.” (At Page 47)

“Future public health crises are inevitable, and public officials may again be tempted to resort to the most rather than least restrictive means of responding. It is difficult, however, to imagine that persons confined, stigmatized, and traumatized by their detention will have the wherewithal to launch and fully litigate federal civil rights litigation, including trial and appeal, while quarantined for 21 days. The result, apart from contests about mootness over any suits that are filed in that window of time, will likely be continuing uncertainty. In addition to increasing the likelihood of unjustified quarantine, such uncertainty may discourage doctors and aid workers from traveling to the source of epidemics, ultimately harming efforts to protect the public health.” (At Page 49)