By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A nurse who was quarantined against her will inside a plastic tent in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in West Africa filed a civil rights lawsuit against Governor Chris Christie on Thursday, her lawyer said.
Kaci Hickox is claiming in her lawsuit that Christie, now a Republican presidential candidate, unconstitutionally and unreasonably detained, isolated and quarantined her in October last year without a valid legal or medical reason.
"This case is about liberty and freedom," said Norman Siegel, Hickox's attorney. "It's also about accountability, holding even governors accountable for their violations of citizens' constitutional rights."
Hickox, who became known in the media as the "Ebola nurse," is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of at least $250,000, Siegel said.
After sharply criticizing Christie over her forced isolation for nearly 80 hours, Hickox was driven to her boyfriend's home in Fort Kent, Maine, where Governor Paul LePage ordered her quarantined, even though she had tested negative for the virus.
She publicly defied the order, drawing national attention to the battle between states seeking to impose strict restrictions on healthcare workers returning after treating Ebola patients and the civil liberties of those individuals.
A handful of states imposed mandatory quarantines on health workers returning from three Ebola-ravaged West African countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The federal government has been wary of the efforts, seen as potentially discouraging medical volunteers.
Late last year, Maine settled a lawsuit brought by Hickox over the quarantine.
Christie has defended his decision to impose a mandatory quarantine, saying that counting on a voluntary system may not work and that protecting health and safety is the government's job.
His office was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
Hickox, who has since married her boyfriend and moved to Oregon, filed the lawsuit partly to draw attention to national public health policy issues surrounding Ebola that she says make no sense, her lawyer said.
"She became a public voice for public health issues" when she was quarantined, Siegel said. "She continues to be that voice."
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Peter Cooney)