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Media Alerts - Karsjens v. Johnson Piper - Eighth Circuit
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January 11, 2017
  Karsjens v. Johnson Piper - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel rules that Minnesota's sex offender civil commitment statute is constitutional

Area of Law Due Process

Issue(s) Presented Whether the district court properly determined that Minnesota's sex offender civil commitment statute violates substantive due process both facially and as applied.

Brief Summary Minnesota's Civil Commitment and Treatment Act (MCTA) permits a state district court judge to civilly commit a sexually dangerous person or a person with a sexual psychopathic personality to a secure treatment facility based on a showing of clear and convincing evidence. Such commitment is for an indeterminate period of time, but the committed person can be transferred, provisionally discharged, or fully discharged through a petition for a reduction in custody procedure set forth in the statute. Since the statute's enactment in 1994, no committed individual has been fully discharged from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), and only three people have been provisionally discharged.

A class of committed sex offenders filed this suit against a number of state defendants who are managers of MSOP. Plaintiffs brought facial and as applied challenges under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, claiming their substantive due process rights were violated by the MCTA and the MSOP. Following a six week bench trial, the district court agreed, and granted injunctive relief. The district court applied strict scrutiny, placing the burden on the state to show that the MCTA was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, because it found that plaintiffs had a "fundamental right to live free of physical restraint."

The state defendants appealed, alleging judicial bias, jurisdictional defects, and application of an incorrect standard of scrutiny to plaintiff's due process claims. An Eighth Circuit panel rejected the state defendants' first two arguments. As to the third issue, the panel agreed that the wrong standard of scrutiny was applied to the due process claims. The strict scrutiny standard is only applied to claims of infringement on "fundamental" liberty interests. The Supreme Court, however, has never held people who pose a significant danger to themselves or others possess a fundamental liberty interest in being free from physical restraint. Indeed, the Supreme Court has noted that many states provide for involuntary civil commitment of people who are unable to control their behavior or pose a threat to public health and safety, and thus, it is not the case that involuntary civil commitment is "contrary to our understanding of ordered liberty." As such, the Eighth Circuit held that the proper standard to apply to plaintiffs' due process claims is whether the MCTA bears a rational relationship to a legitimate government purpose.

The Eighth Circuit applied the rational basis standard to both the facial and as applied challenges to the MCTA. It held that the statute does bear a rational relationship to a legitimate Minnesota interest, and that as applied, none of the complained of actions of the state defendants was conscience-shocking. As such, the Eighth Circuit panel held that the statute does not violate plaintiffs' due process rights.

The full text of the opinion may be found at

Panel Circuit Judges Colloton, Murphy, and Shepherd

Date of Issued Opinion January 3, 2017

Decided Reversed and remanded

Docket Number 15-3485

Counsel Alan Gilbert for Appellants and Daniel Gustafson for Appellees

Author Circuit Judge Shepherd

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 01/11/2017 01:26 PM     8th Circuit  

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