Infectious Diseases on Agents of SHIELD

“FZZT” was one of the best Agents of SHIELD yet. The big legal issue presented was the legality of quarantining someone with an infectious disease that could cause a pandemic.

The Quarantine Zone

Coulson_Quarantine_5867Agent Coulson had firemen and Simmons each put into quarantine over the course of the episode.

Case law going back over 100 years validates the practice of doing so to avoid a pandemic.

As United States Supreme Court Justice White said in 1902:

That from an early day the power of the States to enact and enforce quarantine laws for the safety and the protection of the health of their inhabitants has been recognized by Congress, is beyond question.

Compagnie Francaise De Navigation A Vapeur v. Louisiana State Bd. of Health, 186 U.S. 380, 387-388 (U.S. 1902).

However, there are limits.

One quarantine in San Francisco that was supposed to stop the spread of the bubonic plague covered 12 city blocks where 10,000 people lived. The area happened to be populated by Chinese-Americans. Jew Ho v. Williamson, 103 F. 10, 21-24 (C.C.D. Cal. 1900).

Circuit Judge William Morrow struck down the quarantine as “unreasonable, unjust, and oppressive” and in violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Jew Ho, at *26.

It must necessarily follow that, where so many have been quarantined, the danger of the spread of the disease would not diminish. The purpose of quarantine and health laws and regulations with respect to contagious and infections diseases is directed primarily to preventing the spread of such diseases among the inhabitants of localities. In this respect these laws and regulations come under the police power of the state, and may be enforced by quarantine and health officers, in the exercise of a large discretion, as circumstances may require. The more densely populated the community, the greater danger there is that the disease will spread, and hence the necessity for effectual methods of protection.


It must necessarily follow that, if a large section or a large territory is quarantined, intercommunication of the people within that territory will rather tend to spread the disease than to restrict it. If you place 10,000 persons in one territory, and confine them there, as they have been in prisons and other places, the spread of disease, of course, becomes increased, and the danger of such spread of disease is increased, sometimes in an alarming degree, because it is the constant communication of people that are so restrained or imprisoned that causes the spread of the disease.


The next most dangerous thing to do was to quarantine any considerable portion of the city, and not restrict intercommunication within the quarantined district.

Jew Ho, at *27, 35.

Jew Ho v. Williamson is a very good civil rights case that covers what is, and what is not, a proper exercise of police power in quarantining people to stop the spread of disease.

Agent Coulson’s actions in quarantining the firemen and Simmons were proper exercises of such police power.

The firemen total number of firemen quarantined was a dozen at most. This was done for not just their safety in being able to develop a cure for anyone infected, but to keep the disease from becoming a pandemic. This would meet the well-established reasons to quarantine a group of people.

Agent Coulson sealing Simmons in the science lab of the cargo bay would also have been a valid exercise of police power in quarantining someone. It was not done with “evil intent,” but because she was infected with an alien virus.

Agents of SHIELD has been a fun ride so far and continues to touch on solid legal issues. Let’s see what happens with the Thor 2 cross-over.