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Duration of Confinement in Segregation Affects Due Process Inquiry

On May 12, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the length of a prisoner’s confinement in administrative segregation (ad seg) affects whether there has been a due process violation.

Carey Harden-Bey, a Michigan prisoner at the Alger Maximum Correctional Facility, was placed in ad seg on September 12, 2002 after prison officials received reports from other prisoners and staff that he was “using his position as a ranking member of the Moorish Science Temple of America to direct and influence his followers to strong arm other prisoners, collect debts, approve prisoner assaults, and [was] involved in the approval and planning of a major serious assault on staff and a takeover of the housing unit and/or facility ... at Alger.”

Harden-Bey requested an investigation into his ad seg placement. After conducting a hearing on the matter, prison officials upheld his placement. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, Harden-Bey filed grievances complaining about his continued confinement in ad seg without periodic reviews. Each grievance was denied.

In December 2005, he filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against several prison officials, alleging that his continued confinement in ad seg violated his constitutional rights. The district court dismissed Harden-Bey’s complaint for failure to state a claim. According to the court, “placement in administrative segregation is never ‘atypical and significant’ and ... the ‘length of the placement’ does not affect the inquiry.” The district court also rejected Harden-Bey’s Eighth Amendment claim related to his ad seg confinement. Harden-Bey appealed.

Framing the question on appeal as whether Harden-Bey’s “allegedly indefinite confinement in administrative segregation, three years and running at the time of the complaint, amounts to an ‘atypical and significant hardship on [him] in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life,’” the Sixth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s dismissal of the suit.

“[T]he duration of prison discipline bears on whether a cognizable liberty interest exists,” the Court of Appeals explained. Rather than prejudge the issue, though, the Court remanded the matter to the district court to assess in the first instance “whether the nature and allegedly ‘indefinite’ duration of Harden-Bey’s segregation” was “atypical and significant in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.”

The Sixth Circuit agreed, however, with the district court’s handling of Harden-Bey’s Eighth Amendment claim. The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from only the deprivation “of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.” Placement in ad seg is but “a routine discomfort that is a part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society,” the appellate court held.

Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed in part and reversed in part. See: Harden-Bey v. Rutter, 524 F.3d 789 (6th Cir. 2008).

Following remand, the district court conducted a screening review of Harden-Bey’s complaint pursuant to the PLRA. The court dismissed his conspiracy, equal protection and retaliation claims for failure to state a claim, but ordered service of the complaint as to Harden-Bey’s due process claims and a new Eight Amendment claim raised in an amended complaint related to seizure of his medical devices (ankle braces and orthopedic boots). See: Harden-Bey v. Rutter, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82567 (W.D. Mich., Oct. 16, 2008). This case is ongoing, and Harden-Bey is now represented by counsel.

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Related legal cases

Harden-Bey v. Rutter

Harden-Bey v. Rutter