DETENTION OF INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS OF INDIVIDUALS

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8.1 Summary

District of Columbia (District) law authorizes both the Mayor of the District of Columbia (the Mayor) and the Department of Health (DC Health) to issue detention orders to individuals and groups of individuals. However, typically, the Mayor has delegated detention authority to DC Health. “Quarantine” refers to the detention of an individual or group of individuals who may be affected with communicable disease. “Isolation” may be ordered when an individual or a group of individuals is known to be infected with a communicable disease.

Detained individuals are entitled to some procedural due process protections, including notice, a right to a hearing, and, in certain situations, the right to appointed counsel. While in detainment, individuals may be subject to medical examination. The results of the medical examination may be used to either release a non-affected individual or prolong the detainment. Individuals who leave detainment without discharge or impede in the detainment of others may be subject to fines and jail time. Individuals may exercise a religious exemption to the appointed place of detainment or compelled medical treatment.

8.2 Definitions

8.2.1 Quarantine 

“Quarantine” separates and restricts the movement of individuals exposed to contagious disease to see if they become sick. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Quarantine and Isolation, http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/ (last modified March 21, 2017).

8.2.2 Isolation 

“Isolation” separates people affected with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. CDC, Quarantine and Isolation, http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/ (last modified March 21, 2017).

8.2.3 Affected with Communicable Disease 

 “Affected with a communicable disease” means that an individual is:

  • Infected with a communicable disease or exposed to a chemical or radiological agent that is capable of infecting others with the same disease or radiological agent if permitted to move freely in the general public; or
  • A carrier of or contaminated with an infectious disease or chemical or radiological agent and capable of infecting others with the disease or chemical or radiological agent.

D.C. Official Code § 7-132(1).

There is no separate legal definition for “probable cause” as it is used in the isolation and quarantine statutes. As articulated by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (Court of Appeals), the standard in the criminal context is when an officer “has reasonably trustworthy information at the moment of arrest ‘sufficient to warrant a reasonably prudent [person] in believing that the [suspect has] committed or [is] committing an offense.’” Brown v. United States, 590 A.2d 1008, 1012 (D.C.1991); see also Umanzor v. United States, 803 A.2d 983, 992 (D.C. 2002). In the context of a false imprisonment defense, the Court of Appeals has defined probable cause as “a good faith, reasonable belief in the validity of the arrest and detention.” DeWitt v. District of Columbia., 43 A.3d 291, 295 (D.C. 2012).

8.3 Rulemaking Authority

8.3.1 Authority of the Mayor

The Mayor of the District of Columbia (the Mayor) may promulgate regulations governing isolation, quarantine, and other restricting movement orders. This authority has been delegated to the Department of Health (DC Health). DC Health may issue such regulations when necessary to prevent and control the spread of communicable diseases, environmentally or occupationally related diseases, or other diseases or medical conditions that the DC Health Director has advised should be monitored for epidemiological or other public health reasons. D.C. Official Code § 7-131(a).

Communicable disease is defined in section 7.2.

8.3.2 Construction of the Regulations

Detention regulations are to be constructed liberally to aid public authorities in the protection of public health. D.C. Official Code § 7-144.

Courts grant great deference to governmental public health authority when individuals have been deprived of their liberty for a public health purpose. See Sch. Bd. of Nassau Cty., Fla. v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 288 (1987).

8.4 Ordering an Individual to Submit to Quarantine, Isolation, and/or Medical Treatment

8.4.1 Authority of the Mayor

The Mayor may order an individual to submit to quarantine, isolation, and/or medical treatment (collectively referred to as “detention”). This authority has been delegated to DC Health. DC Health may issue such detention orders when:

  • DC Health has probable cause to believe that an individual is affected with or a carrier of a communicable disease; and,
  • The individual’s presence in the general population is likely to cause death or seriously impair the health of others.

D.C. Official Code § 7-133 (a); see Jacobson, 197 U.S. 11 (1905).

There is no separate legal definition for “probable cause” as it is used in the isolation and quarantine statutes. As articulated by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (Court of Appeals), the standard in the criminal context is when an officer “has reasonably trustworthy information at the moment of arrest ‘sufficient to warrant a reasonably prudent [person] in believing that the [suspect has] committed or [is] committing an offense.’” Brown v. United States, 590 A.2d 1008, 1012 (D.C.1991); see also Umanzor v. United States, 803 A.2d 983, 992 (D.C. 2002). In the context of a false imprisonment defense, the Court of Appeals has defined probable cause as “a good faith, reasonable belief in the validity of the arrest and detention.” DeWitt v. District of Columbia., 43 A.3d 291, 295 (D.C. 2012).

8.4.2 Content of Detention Orders

Detention orders for individuals must meet the following requirements:

  • The detention order must be in writing;
  • The detention order must state where the detention is to take place. The place of detention may either be within the District of Columbia (the District) or outside the District, provided that the place of detention is under the supervision of the District Government; and
  • The detention order must be served by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) or a designated employee of the District.
    • The server must give a copy of the detention order to the detained individual and explain its contents;
    • The place of detention cannot be a place of imprisonment or jail. Benton v. Reid, 231 F.2d 780, 782 (D.C. Cir. 1956);
    • The server must give a copy of the detention order to the person in charge of the place where the individual is detained; and
    • If the place of detention is a residence, the copy of the detention order may be given to “any person of suitable age and discretion”.

D.C. Official Code § 7-133(b), D.C. Official Code § 7-134(a).

See Appendix 1.0 for sample documents related to communicable disease and detention, including DC Health and court orders.

8.4.3 Duration of Detention Orders

A detention order expires within 24 hours of issuance. Therefore, prompt service of the order and return of service is necessary. D.C. Official Code § 7-134(a). A District of Columbia Superior Court (Superior Court) judge may extend a detention order if probable cause exists to believe that the detained individual’s presence in the general population is likely to cause death or seriously impair the health of others. D.C. Official Code § 7-134(a).

8.4.4 Challenging Detention Orders

If a Superior Court judge extends a detention order beyond 24 hours, the detained individual may petition for a hearing contesting the detention. D.C. Official Code § 7-134(b).

A hearing on the petition must take place “as soon as practical,” but no later than 10 days after the court receives the petition.  At the hearing, the judge will determine if:

  • The detained individual is affected with a communicable disease; and, if so,
  • Whether the release of the detained individual into the general population would likely cause death or seriously impair the health of others.

D.C. Official Code § 7-134(b).

8.4.5 Authority of the Director of the Department of Health 

The DC Health Director has authority to issue detention orders under 22B DCMR § 210.8.  The DC Health Director may issue a removal and detention order pursuant to the Mayor’s authority (see D.C. Official Code §§ 7-131 to-144) when:

  • The DC Health Director has probable cause to believe that an individual is affected with or is a carrier of a communicable disease; and,
  • The DC Health Director has probable cause to believe that the individual is likely to be dangerous to the life or health of any other person because
    • There are improper facilities or the lack of facilities for isolation; or,
    • The individual is non-cooperative or careless, including any refusal to submit to examination or refusal to be properly treated or cared for, and is likely to be a danger to public health. 22B DCMR § 210.8.

The DC Health Director may order a placard to be posted on the premises occupied by any individual affected with a communicable disease. 22B DCMR § 210.6. The placard may not be mutilated, defaced, obliterated, concealed or removed without the authorization of the DC Health Director. 22B DCMR § 210.7.

8.4.6 Religious Exemptions to Detention

Individuals who, on behalf of themselves, their children or their wards, rely in good faith upon spiritual means or prayer to prevent or cure disease cannot be ordered to detainment in a hospital or other medical institution unless no other place for “quarantine” can be secured. An individual who exercises a religious exemption cannot be compelled to submit to medical treatment. D.C. Official Code § 7-141. See also section 8.4.4 of the Manual.

This religious exemption is limited to quarantine in an institutional setting and does not permit an individual to disregard an order to be quarantined at home.

If a court determines that a child is “neglected” and the child’s parent or guardian takes a position clearly beyond the child’s best interest or displays judgment contrary to all competent medical evidence, the court must act in the child’s best interest regardless of any objection of the parent or guardian. See In re K.I., 735 A.2d 448 (D.C. 1999).

8.5 Ordering Groups to Submit to Quarantine, Isolation, and/or Medical Treatment

8.5.1 Authority of the Mayor

The Mayor may order groups of individuals to submit to detention. This authority has been delegated to DC Health. DC Health may order groups of individuals to submit to detention when:

  • The DC Health Director has probable cause to believe that the group is affected with a communicable disease; and,
  • The group’s ability to move freely in the general population is likely to cause death or seriously impair the health of others.

D.C. Official Code § 7-133(c).

8.5.2 Content of Group Detention Orders

Detention orders for groups of individuals must comport with the following requirements:

  • The group detention order must be in writing;
  • The group detention order must state the bounds of the area subject to the order;
  • The person or persons executing the group detention order must inform by “reasonable means” all persons within the detention area of the contents of the order;
  • The person or persons executing the group detention order must post a copy of the order in a conspicuous place within the detention area; and
  • The person or persons executing the group detention order must give a copy of the detention order to the person in charge of the place where the group is detained.
    • If the place of detention is a residence, the copy of the order should be given to “any person of suitable age and discretion”.

D.C. Official Code §§ 7-133(c), 134(a).

D.C. Official Code § 7-133 does not expressly reference who is to serve a group detention order. Presumably, a group detention order must be served the same way as an individual detention order (i.e., by the MPD or a designated District employee).

8.5.3 Duration of Group Detention Orders

A group detention order expires within 24 hours of issuance. Therefore, prompt service of the order and return of service is necessary. A Superior Court judge may extend a group detention order if probable cause exists to believe that the group’s presence in the general population is likely to cause death or seriously impair the health of others. D.C. Official Code § 7-134(a).

8.5.4 Challenging a Group Detention Order

If a Superior Court judge extends a group detention order beyond 24 hours, the detained group may petition for a hearing on the detention. D.C. Official Code § 7-134(b).

The hearing must take place “as soon as practical,” but no later than 10 days after the court receives the petition. At the hearing, the judge will determine whether:

  • The group is affected with a communicable disease; and,
  • If the group is affected with a communicable disease, whether the release of the group into the general population is likely to cause death or seriously impair the health of others.

D.C. Official Code § 7-134(b).

The right to object to quarantine on religious grounds is an individual and not a collective right under District law. D.C. Official Code § 7-141.

See Appendix 3.0 for an isolation, quarantine, and treatment flowchart. 

8.6 Medical Examination of Detained Individuals

8.6.1 Authority of the Mayor

The Mayor is required to designate medical personnel to medically examine each detained person to determine whether the individual is affected with a communicable disease. D.C. Official Code § 7-135(a). The Mayor has delegated this authority to DC Health.

The results of the medical examination must comport with the following requirements: 

  • The diagnosis resulting from the medical examination must be in writing;
  • The examining physician must sign the diagnosis;
  • A copy of the signed diagnosis must be given to the detained individual;
  • A copy of the signed diagnosis must be given to the person in charge of the place where the individual is detained (if the place of detention is a residence, the copy of the order should be given to “any person of suitable age and discretion”); and
  • A copy of the signed diagnosis must be given to the DC Health Director.

D.C. Official Code § 7-135.

See section 10.4.4 B for information regarding when information may be disclosed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) for public health activities.

8.6.2 Authority of the Director of the Department of Health

The DC Health Director may order an individual who has or is suspected of having a communicable disease or being a carrier of a communicable disease to submit to an examination to determine the existence of communicable disease. 22B DCMR § 210.4.

The DC Health Director may also order an individual to submit specimens or permit the obtaining of authentic specimens of body secretions, excretions, body fluids, and discharges for laboratory examination. 22B DCMR § 210.5.

8.6.3 Refusal to Submit to a Medical Examination

If an individual refuses to submit to medical examination, the DC Health Director may issue a removal and detention order to compel a person who has or is suspected of having a communicable disease or who is or is suspected of being a carrier of communicable disease to submit to an examination to determine the existence of such communicable disease. 22B DCMR § 210.8(b).

8.6.4 Diagnosis

An individual who is found not to be affected with a communicable disease must be immediately discharged. D.C. Official Code § 7-135(a).

If an individual is diagnosed as being affected with a communicable disease, the person may be detained for as long as necessary to protect the public health. D.C. Official Code § 7-135(b).

8.6.5 Challenging a Detention Order Based Upon a Medical Diagnosis

An individual detained because of a medical diagnosis may, at any time, petition the Superior Court for a discharge hearing. If the individual cannot afford counsel, counsel will be appointed. D.C. Official Code § 7-135(b).

See Appendix 3.0 for a medical examination flowchart. 

8.7 The Role of Physicians in Detentions

If an individual is detained due to suspected communicable disease, a physician must examine such individual, with the diagnosis of the individual made in writing signed by the examining physician. D.C. Official Code § 7-135(a). In addition, the examining physician may be asked to sign an affidavit to support probable cause for detention or extension of a detention order.  D.C. Official Code § 7-134, D.C. Official Code § 7-137.

Certain information sharing laws change during emergencies, such as some provisions under HIPAA and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). See section 10.0 for further information regarding HIPAA and section 4.10 for further information regarding EMTALA.

8.7.1 Care of Detained Individuals

The management of any detained infected person must be in accordance with good medical and public health practice. 22B DCMR § 202.7. Meeting the requirements of Chapter 22-B2 of the DCMR and complying with the recommendations of the latest edition of “Control of Communicable Disease,” published by the American Public Health Association, is prima facie evidence of good medical and public health practice. 22B DCMR § 202.8.

The physician or other person in charge of the detention must advise each adult infected person and each parent, guardian, or person in charge of an infected person of the applicable requirements of the isolation, quarantine, and other restriction of movement. 22B DCMR § 202.4.

22B DCMR § 202.4 refers to “infected” persons and parents, guardians, or persons in charge of “infected” persons only and not to those suspected of being infected with a communicable disease. Since the remainder of the provision references quarantine, it is reasonable to assume that the requirements of 22B DCMR § 202.4 extend to those suspected of being infected as well.

8.7.2 Duty of Detained Individuals

An infected individual, contact or carrier or the parent, guardian, or person in charge of such individual, must comply with the instructions given by the physician or other person responsible for the control of a case of communicable disease. 22B DCMR § 210.9-210.10.

8.7.3 Reporting Requirements

The physician or person in charge of a detained individual must report the case to the DC Health Director within the time required and manner prescribed for reportable disease reporting. 22B DCMR § 202.1- 202.2

Section 7.3 of the Manual provides a list of reportable disease and reporting requirements. Appendix 5.0 provides a chart of notifiable diseases and conditions developed by DC Health (last revised January 2017).

In addition, the physician or person in charge of a detained individual must submit detailed instructions concerning the detention in his/her report to DC Health. Alternatively, the report may contain a statement that instructions were given in accordance with Chapter 22-B2 of the DCMR and the latest edition of “Control of Communicable Disease,” published by the American Public Health Association. 22B DCMR § 202.2

The physician treating or caring for a person with a communicable disease must report immediately the name, address, and other relevant information to the DC Health Director if:

  • An individual violates his or her isolation or quarantine;
  • An individual is delinquent in treatment; or
  • There is a change of location of the patient.

22B DCMR § 202.10.

8.8 Use of Warrants in Detentions

8.8.1 Authority

The Superior Court may issue a warrant for the arrest of an individual who is believed, upon probable cause, to be affected with or a carrier of any communicable disease. D.C. Official Code § 7-137(a). The warrant is directed to the Chief of Police and can only be served by the Chief or an officer or member of the MPD. D.C. Official Code § 7-137(a),(c).

8.8.2 Contents of the Warrant

The warrant must be supported by an affidavit or affidavits setting forth the grounds for the application. D.C. Official Code § 7-137(b). The Superior Court is responsible for maintaining and keeping records of all warrants issued and returned. D.C. Official Code § 7-137(f).

8.8.3 Powers if Admittance is Refused

If refused admittance, an officer may break open any door or window of a house, any part of a house, or “anything therein” to execute the warrant. D.C. Official Code § 7-137(d).

Although D.C. Official Code § 7-137(d) speaks specifically to “house,” presumably, an officer has the authority to open any door or window of any building or place to execute the warrant.

8.8.4 Expiration of the Warrant

The warrant must be returned to the court within 10 days or it becomes void. D.C. Official Code § 7-137(e).  

8.8.5 Discharge

If an individual is detained under the authority of a warrant, the individual may not be discharged until after being medically examined by a physician and determined not to be affected by a communicable disease. D.C. Official Code § 7-135.

8.9 Inspection of Property for the Purpose of Detention or Investigation

The authority to inspect property is not limited to detention. See sections 9.0 and 13.0 of the Manual for further instances where inspection of property is permitted.

8.9.1 Authority of the Mayor

The Mayor, without fee or hindrance, may enter, examine and inspect all vessels, premises, grounds, structures, buildings, and every part thereof in the District, for purposes of preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Owners, agents, representatives, lessees, and occupants of these places must give officers or employees of the Mayor free access. D.C. Official Code § 7-138.

8.9.2 Authority of the DC Health Director

The DC Health Director may enter and inspect any public or private property in the District to investigate a case or suspected case of a communicable disease. 22B DCMR § 210.2.

8.10 Sanctions

8.10.1 The Venue

An individual may be prosecuted in the Superior Court for leaving detention without discharge, D.C. Official Code § 7-136, hindering access for  the inspection of property, D.C. Official Code § 7-138, or interfering with persons performing duties associated with detention or investigation, D.C. Official Code § 7-139. D.C. Official Code § 7-140.

8.10.2 Conditions Imposed by the Court

The Superior Court may impose conditions upon a person found guilty of violating D.C. Official Code § 7-136, D.C. Official Code § 7-138, or D.C. Official Code § 7-139.  Such conditions may include submission to medical examination, diagnosis, and treatment by proper public health and welfare authorities or by any licensed physician approved by the court, and such other terms and conditions as the court may deem best for the protection of the community and the punishment, control, and rehabilitation of the defendant.  As long as the defendant complies with such conditions to the satisfaction of the court, the court may suspend the imposition or execution of the sentence; at or before the expiration of such period, the court can choose to vacate or execute the sentence. D.C. Official Code § 7-140.

8.10.3 Penalties

Violation of one of these statutes is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding $5,000, imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or both.  Violation of any rule and regulation issued under Title 7, chapter 1, subsection II is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000, imprisonment for not more than 30 days, or both. D.C. Official Code § 7-140.

8.11 Habeas Corpus

In addition to, or as an alternative to, the hearing provided under D.C. Official Code § 7-135, a detained individual may file a habeas corpus petition to end his or her commitment. D.C. Official Code § 16-1901.

D.C. Official Code § 7-135 states that counsel must be provided if the person detained cannot afford counsel. D.C. Official Code § 16-1901 is silent regarding the appointment of counsel.

8.11.1 Parties

 A writ of habeas corpus may be brought by a detained individual or on behalf of a detained individual. D.C. Official Code § 16-1901(a).

8.11.2 Venue

Petitions for writs directed to federal officers and employees must be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. D.C. Official Code § 16-1901 (b). Petitions for writs directed to any other person must be filed in the Superior Court. D.C. Official Code § 16-1901(c).

9.11.3 Proof

The facts in the habeas corpus petition must make a prima facie case. D.C. Official Code § 16-1901(a); United States v. Tuck, 194 U.S. 161, 170 (1904); Bennett v. Ridley, 633 A.2d 824, 826 (D.C. 1993). It is sufficient to present an allegation and supporting facts that, if proven, would entitle the petitioner to relief. Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 292 (1948); Bennett, 633 A.2d at 826.



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