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Reversal: Ex-DOC worker wins appeal in bid to marry inmate

August 17, 2015

A former contract worker who quit her job at an Indiana prison after her sexual relationship with an inmate was discovered was wrongly denied permission to marry him, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Rebecca Riker was an Aramark employee who worked for a few months in late 2007 and early 2008 in food service. She supervised Paul Vest, who was serving a 50-year sentence for robbery with serious bodily injury. After another Aramark employee saw Riker kissing Vest in a walk-in cooler, the employee reported the incident and Riker quit the next day.

Riker and Vest continued to communicate by mail and phone, but the prison would not allow Riker to visit and also denied her request to marry Vest because she was not on his list of approved visitors. DOC has a policy under which marriages between inmates and former employees may be barred, but the 7th Circuit panel noted this wasn’t referenced as a reason to deny Riker’s marriage application.

The panel on Friday reversed summary judgment in favor of DOC defendants in Rebecca Riker v. Bruce Lemmon, in his official capacity, et al., 14-2910.

“We respectfully disagree with the district court and conclude that, on this record, the defendants have failed to justify adequately the denial of Ms. Riker’s marriage request. We accordingly reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for further proceedings,” Senior Judge Kenneth F. Ripple wrote for the panel.

DOC contends the marriage must not be allowed because its policy creates a deterrent effect for employees and that allowing the marriage of an inmate to someone with knowledge of the facility and DOC employee policies would create security risks.

But Ripple wrote that the DOC failed to substantiate possible risks of allowing Riker and Vest to marry. He wrote in a footnote that DOC “fundamentally misconceives the issue before the court” by relying on denial of visitation to prevent the pair from marrying.

“It is implausible to suggest, without some supporting evidence, that a brief marriage ceremony cannot be accommodated without threatening institutional security and without imposing more than a de minimis impact on prison resources,” Ripple wrote.

“The district court erred in granting the Department’s motion for summary judgment and concluding that the Department’s denial of Ms. Riker’s request for a brief, one-time visit in order to participate in a marriage ceremony did not violate her constitutional right to marry,” the panel concluded. “The judgment of the district court is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Ms. Riker may recover the costs of this appeal.”

 

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