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7th Circuit allows inmate’s due process claim to continue

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed summary judgment against a federal inmate on his constitutional due process claims, finding that the reviews of his prolonged stay in solitary confinement may not pass constitutional muster.

In Aaron E. Isby v. Richard Brown, et al., 15-3334, Aaron Isby was convicted in 1989 of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury and incarcerated in the Pendleton Correctional Facility. After an altercation with a correctional facility counselor who was allegedly verbally abuse, officers gassed Isby and entered his cell with dogs, a fire hose and an armed cell-extraction team.

One of the dogs was killed in the ensuing altercation, and Isby stabbed two correctional officers, one in the neck and one in the head through a helmet. He was subsequently conviction of two counts of attempted murder and battery, was sentenced to an additional 40 years in prison and began receiving multiple major-conduct reports at the various correctional facilities he was moved to throughout the state.

Eventually Isby was transferred to the Wabash Valley Correction Facility in October 2006, where he was initially housed in the general population. However, a few weeks after his arrival, Isby was transferred to solitary confinement, where he has remained ever since. He is allowed one hour of exercise time outside of his cell each day and can also be outside of his cell for social, attorney or medical visits, but he does not have access to the vocational, work or educational programs offered to other inmates.

Prison officers testified that Isby’s continued segregation is due to the previous incident with the police dogs, his “extremely argumentative and disrespectful” attitude and his failure to sign up for inmate reconditioning programs. When Jerry Snyder, team manager of the solitary confinement unit, advised Isby in 2014 he was considering transferring him to a New Castle transition unit, Isby refused to go to New Castle and instead demanded to be immediately released to the general population at Wabash.

Isby filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in May 2012, after being granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis, alleging that his assignment to solitary confinement violated his Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and that the alleged inadequate review of his continued assignment to solitary confinement was in violation of his due process rights under the 14th Amendment. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the due process claim, arguing, among other things, they were entitled to qualified immunity.

Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson granted summary judgment on the due process claim, then also entered judgment in the defendants’ favor on his Eighth Amendment claims in September 2015. Specifically, the district court found Isby’s continued placement in administrative segregation was “a result of his own refusal to cooperate in any way with prison officials in efforts to transition him into the general housing population.”

Isby was again granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal, and in February 2017, just five days before oral argument before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, another panel of the court dismissed another appeal brought by Isby in a different case, Isby-Israel v. Lemmon, 16-2697, 2017 WL 465670 (7th Cir. Feb. 3, 2017). In that case, the panel wrote Isby “knew (from the dismissal of one of his earlier actions) that he had already accumulated three ‘strikes’ for filing frivolous suits of appeals,” so he had to pay the full filing fee upfront.

The defendants in the instant case then moved for dismissal, arguing “the facts and circumstance in this appeal are nearly identical (to those of Isby-Israel).” But in a Wednesday opinion, 7th Circuit Judge Joel Flaum wrote the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s three-strikes provision are procedural, not jurisdictional. Thus, because the length of Isby’s stay in solitary confinement “implicates serious constitutional concerns,” the court denied the motion to dismiss and instead chose to consider Isby’s case on its merits and accept his counsel’s payment of his fees.

The 7th Circuit then affirmed the district court’s decision on Isby’s Eighth Amendment claim, finding “no evidence of serious, physical, mental, or psychological harm to Isby… .” However, the appellate court noted it found Isby’s prolonged confinement “greatly disturbing.”

But the court also found that “given the long stretches of time during which Isby had no serious disciplinary problems, as well as the conflicting evidence as to the reasons for his ongoing segregation, Isby has raised triable issues of material fact regarding whether his reviews were meaningful or pretextual.” Further, there is also a dispute as to whether the 30- and 90-day reviews of his confinement meet the constitutional due process standards. Thus, Isby’s due process claims should have survived summary judgment.

Finally, the 7th Circuit ruled that summary judgment was also precluded on the basis of qualified immunity given the facts of the case. Thus, the case was remanded to further address Isby’s 14th Amendment claims, and Isby was ordered to pay all remaining fees to the district and appellate court.
 

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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