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Media Alerts - Allah v. Milling - Second Circuit
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November 24, 2017
  Allah v. Milling - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Rules Prison Officials Are Entitled to Qualified Immunity Despite Violating Inmate's Substantive Due Process Rights

Area of Law: Constitutional Law; Due Process

Issue(s) Presented: Whether prison officials violated an inmate's substantive due process rights by automatically placing him in solitary confinement based on his placement there during a prior term of incarceration, and, if so, whether they are nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity.

Brief Summary: As an inmate serving his sentence in the custody of the State of Connecticut Department of Correction, Allah was placed in solitary confinement after receiving an overall risk score of five. He remained there until his release. Upon return as a pretrial detainee, Allah was automatically placed in the same program. He filed a lawsuit alleging that prison officials violated his substantive due process rights. Reversing in part, the Second Circuit held that although Allah's due process rights were violated, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut erred in holding that the prison officials are not entitled to qualified immunity.

To read the full opinion, please visit: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...9d50e/1/hilite/


Extended Summary: Allah was an inmate in the custody of the State of Connecticut Department of Correction ("DOC"). Each inmate is assigned to a facility pursuant to a classification process that considers, inter alia, his or her committed offense, history of violence, and disciplinary record. Shortly after his arrival at DOC, Allah and other inmates were standing in line near a control station when they were informed that commissary visits would be delayed. Allah asked a correctional officer if he could speak to a lieutenant about this delay, a request that was perceived as an attempt to incite a protest. As a result, Allah was charged with "Impeding Order," had his overall risk score raised to five (high risk), and was placed in Administrative Segregation, a restrictive housing status that provides for closely regulated inmate management and physical separation. He was released in March of 2010 without completing the program.

In September of 2010, Allah returned to DOC custody as a pre-trial detainee and was automatically placed in Administrative Segregation pursuant to DOC's policy, which states that a returning inmate is to be automatically placed in Administrative Segregation if the inmate was discharged from DOC while on that status. During the program, Allah spent 23 hours a day alone in a cell.

Allah filed a lawsuit alleging that DOC's prison officials violated his substantive due process rights by automatically placing him in Administrative Segregation upon re-entry as a pre-trial detainee. Following a two-day bench trial, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled for Allah and rejected the defendants' claims that they are entitled to qualified immunity. The Second Circuit agreed that Allah's due process rights were violated, but nonetheless held that the prison officials are entitled to qualified immunity.

In Bell v. Wolfish, the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause prohibits the punishment of pre-trial detainees prior to an adjudication of guilt. To assess the constitutionality of restrictions placed on pretrial detainees, a court must determine whether the restrictions are imposed for the purpose of punishment or whether they are incident to some other legitimate government purpose, such as the security of the prison. Applying Wolfish, the Second Circuit held Allah's due process rights were violated, finding no evidence that prison officials made an individualized assessment that Allah posed a security risk warranting segregation. Instead, he was placed in Administrative Segregation based solely on his placement during his prior term of incarceration. Notably, the court held that even if the prison officials had assessed Allah's risk, his placement might still be unconstitutional, as a restriction may be punitive if it is excessively harsh.

The Second Circuit majority nonetheless held that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, which protects government officials from civil liability insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established rights of which a reasonable person would have known. The Court concluded that Wolfish does not clearly establish that Allah's placement in Administrative Segregation based solely upon his prior assignment to that program would violate due process. The majority determined that the prison officials were relying on an established DOC practice and such confinement is not prohibited if imposed upon an individualized assessment that a detainee poses a threat to security. The majority further reasoned that the difference between using a prior assignment to evaluate an inmate and automatically placing one in Administrative Segregation might not be apparent to prison officials.

In a separate opinion, Judge Pooler argued that the restraints imposed on Allah were unconstitutional as a response to his minor infraction and that the prison officials should not be afforded qualified immunity.

Panel: Chief Judge Katzmann; Circuit Judges Pooler and Lynch

Argument Date:
2/28/2017

Date of Issued Opinion:
11/22/2017

Docket Number: 16-1443-pr

Decided:
Reversed

Case Alert Author: Joanna Kusio

Counsel:
John J. Morgan, Barr & Morgan, Stamford, CT, for Plaintiff-Appellee; Steven M. Barry, Assistant Attorney General, for George Jepsen, Attorney General for the State of Connecticut, Hartford, CT, for Defendants┬┐Appellants

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Lynch (majority); Circuit Judge Pooler (concurring in part and dissenting in part)

Circuit: 2nd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor:
Professor Elyse Diamond

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 11/24/2017 09:22 AM     2nd Circuit  

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