The government of Guam has disregarded a family’s fundamental civil liberties and left quarantined individuals "in the dark" about their due process rights, according to a Superior Court of Guam decision.
"The court is highly concerned that DPHSS continues to quarantine individuals without having faithfully abided by Guam law," wrote Superior Court Judge Elyze Iriarte.
Guam Customs and Quarantine officer and Dededo resident Eugene Igros filed a petition against DPHSS on behalf of his children ages 13 and 8. He and his family were forced into a government quarantine facility after arriving from California, a situation Igros summed up for the court as being imprisoned.
“It is clear that the Governor has mandated the quarantine of the Igros family and others, overriding any notion of a voluntary quarantine for these persons,” stated Iriarte.
Guam law does have procedures allowing for individuals to be quarantined.
“DPHSS utilized this process before but appears to have abandoned it now —leaving the presently quarantined individuals in the dark about their due process rights,” Iriarte stated.
“DPHSS has not proactively petitioned the Court under section 19605(b); but rather waited until it was prompted by the Igroses’ frustrations at being quarantined without choice. By choosing not to follow Guam law, DPHSS has disregarded the Igros’ fundamental civil liberties," the judge ruled.
The court however did note that she was convinced that the 14-day quarantine period should continue based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control. "The court is satisfied that requiring a 14-day quarantine at a government facility for incoming travelers is reasonably necessary to address the risks associated with a 'point in time' test..."
Igros was represented by attorney Rachel Taimanao-Ayuyu. A hearing was held virtually on Friday.
Igros argued that his family met all the quarantine guidelines that were in place prior to their trip July 26. There was a change in the guidelines, however. On Aug. 21 DPHSS mandated a 14-day quarantine at the government facility for all passengers arriving into Guam.
Upon arrival at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport earlier this month, he felt that he did not have the option to decline signing the voluntary quarantine document.
Igros also told the court that he was experiencing stress caused by the quarantine. Various residents who’ve been held in quarantine have noted that they aren’t allowed out of the room for the entire quarantine period. Food is delivered to their rooms and some have said they can’t even step out on to their balconies for fresh air.
The decision took Igros’ arguments on mental health into consideration.
“In the spirit of mental health and well being, the court orders DPHSS to explore opportunities for the Igroses to exercise safely outside of their room and to afford them the opportunity to retrieve clean clothes or for them to wash their clothes,” the decision states.
Additionally, the quarantine of the Igros family does not need to continue in a government facility if they test negative for COVID-19.
The court noted that DPHSS committed to test the Igros family on their 12th day of quarantine with results expected within 24 hours.
“If those test results show the they are negative for COVID-19, they have a reduced risk of transmission to the community,” the decision states. “Continued quarantine in a government facility would not be reasonably necessary to reduce such a risk and they should be allowed to spend the rest of the quarantine period at home.”
The court also ordered DPHSS to pay Igros’ legal fees.
Judge Iriarte found that DPHSS failed to adequately inform the Igroses of the reason for the quarantine, their right to seek release from quarantine or their right to free legal counsel.
“DPHSS’ procedural defects have amounted to a violation of the Igros’ due process rights to counsel and they have now been required to retain private attorneys to represent them,” the court stated. “For this due process violation, DPHSS must pay the Igroses’ attorney’s fees and costs.”
"Officer Igros only wanted to quarantine in his home. We weren't asking for his release into the public like deputy attorney general Jamie Canto had argued... We are very relieved, at least for today, that the court has ruled very justly and we can't forget that while we're in a pandemic, a part of what makes America great, which is being able to be afforded our constitutional rights," said Taimanao-Ayuyu. "They have shown a pattern of putting a procedure out in writing and not following it themselves."
"This is a landmark case. It's landmark because for the first time we have heard our third branch of government say enough of this. You know government if you're going to exert that kind of overwhelming power, you're going to have to do it at the safeguards of our laws," she added. "I really doubt that the people who came in tonight, off the Honolulu flight, were given this directive, or some kind of information that they are able to and they have the right to go before the court within 48 hours to ask for their release."
Additionally Public Health is required to immediately comply with the law. For any individual who has not been issued a directive under section 19605(a), DPHSS must file a petition under section 19605(b) to justify the quarantine of such individuals. Petitions are due on Monday by 4:30 p.m..
DPHSS special projects coordinator Janela Carrera issued a statement following the court's decision.
The department did not address the court's concerns about the department's violations.
"We are pleased that the court recognizes the important role that quarantine plays in combating COVID-19 in our community and that the vast majority of people recognize its benefits to the health and safety of their families and loved ones," stated Carrera. "The Department of Public Health and Social Services is guided and driven by principles that serve to protect the health and safety of the public by taking decisive actions and preventive measures based on locally and federally established policies, procedures, and laws. While we empathize with the individual needs of those undergoing quarantine, DPHSS must also protect its community from a larger, invisible threat that could potentially devastate Guam’s already fragile healthcare system."
The Office of the Attorney General could not be reached as of press time.