February 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Appeals court slams pre-signed quarantine orders

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Kansans won a significant legal victory earlier this year, when the State Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal by Shawnee County over illegal quarantine orders.

In 2021 — at the height of the pandemic — Shawnee County, like many other counties across the state, took steps to allow school districts to issue their own “quarantine orders.”

In places like Olathe and Blue Valley, it quickly became clear that those “orders” were merely “suggestions.”

However, in Shawnee County, the county health officer — Dr. Erin Locke — took it a step further and gave the school district “pre-signed” quarantine orders with the names of children left blank.

Jill Foster-Koch sued after her children were issued quarantine orders which — as the decision noted — “transcripts establish that the students were given quarantine orders Dr. Locke signed in advance and that Dr. Locke never reviewed their circumstances or approved those orders after such a review.”

In January of 2022, District Court Judge Teresa Watson ruled the practice overstepped the law.

The county appealed, and earlier this year, the state court of appeals issued a scathing dismissal of the appeal.

“The law simply does not allow Dr. Locke to delegate to school officials her statutory power and authority to impose quarantine orders in this situation,” Watson wrote at the time.

While holding that the original question had become “moot,” meaning that the initial “controversy” that prompted the lawsuit — in this case a long-since expired quarantine order — the appeals court nevertheless was at pains to make clear such “form letters” are unacceptable.

For a court to render an opinion in a “moot” case, the issue has to be of such importance as to warrant ignoring the “mootness” doctrine — and the court made clear it was not rendering an opinion in this case but merely a “decision.”

However, the court blasted the practice in the ruling, basically saying the use of pre-signed orders is so clearly illegal it was a waste of the court’s time to even discuss the matter.

“This appeal does not present a legal issue of substantial public importance,” the court wrote. “The use of pre-signed quarantine orders that a local health officer does not otherwise review before they are issued is so plainly contrary to the governing statutes the practice cannot be considered even colorably proper. We see no need to prolong this otherwise moot litigation to formally pronounce the obvious.”

Attorney Ryan Kriegshauser of the Kriegshauser-Ney law firm, who is familiar with the case, Foster-Koch and applauded the decision.

“While some have called for “COVID amnesty” for those engaging in extralegal activity under the guise of public health authority, we need to remember government actions like Shawnee County’s here. Shawnee County outsourced quarantine authority — the ability to isolate persons under house arrest under threat of fine or jail — to school staff,” he said. “Public health officials don’t hand out their prescription pads for others to sign, and they clearly shouldn’t have allowed school officials to quarantine students under their signature. 

“This case shows the heights of hubris many public health officials reached when politically correct “science” was their only consideration. This unfortunate episode in our state and nation shows that the rule of law is just as important during times of emergency as during times of peace. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, but we are just beginning to understand the extent.”

 

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