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$47,500 Awarded to Massachusetts Prisoner Held in Segregation Without Hearing

On January 27, 2012, a Massachusetts U.S. District Court awarded $47,500 to a prisoner for due process violations that resulted in 375 days of solitary confinement.

Massachusetts state prisoner Albert Ford filed a civil rights action alleging that his placement in the Department Disciplinary Unit (DDU) at MCI-Cedar Junction without a hearing, as a pretrial detainee and later as a convicted prisoner, violated his substantive and due process rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

Ford began serving time at MCI-Cedar Junction in 1980 and was placed in the DDU in or about 1992 or 1993. While in the DDU on July 1, 2002, he was involved in an altercation that resulted in guards being stabbed and a nurse being taken hostage. Consequently, Ford was sanctioned with ten years in the DDU, which is a restricted solitary confinement unit.

Ford was later indicted in state court for armed assault with intent to murder for the incident involving the guards and nurse. With his sentence set to expire on January 7, 2007, the local sheriff’s office obtained approval from the district attorney for Ford to remain at MCI-Cedar Junction as a pretrial detainee, which is permitted under Massachusetts law.

Ford remained in the DDU upon expiration of his sentence until he was granted, and posted, bail in March 2007. On June 26, 2007, his bail was revoked on a charge of mailing heroin to a prisoner at MCI-Cedar Junction. Upon his return to prison, Ford was again placed in the DDU to continue serving his original ten-year sanction. He was continued on that status after pleading guilty to the armed assault and heroin charges, receiving a 4-5 year sentence.

In his civil rights complaint, Ford alleged that placing him in the DDU after his original sentence expired, after his bond was revoked and after his new conviction, without a hearing, violated his due process rights. Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed and the district court entered judgment in favor of Ford on November 16, 2010. The court found that James Bender, Deputy Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, and Peter St. Amand, Superintendent of MCI-Cedar Junction, had violated Ford’s rights by keeping him in the DDU without a new hearing after he had completed his original sentence.

The district court held a damages trial in July 2011. The court found that Ford was only released from the DDU after the defendants were ordered to hold a hearing to determine if he should remain in DDU status. Ford was awarded $100 per day for each of the 375 days he was held in the DDU illegally, totaling $37,500. Further, the court awarded him $10,000 for mental anguish caused by being housed in the DDU after his bail was revoked.

The district court made a significant finding as to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), which prohibits a prisoner from bringing a claim for mental or emotional injury while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury. The court held that is an affirmative defense that must be raised in the defendants’ answer, and their failure to do so constituted a waiver.
Additionally, the court found that § 1997e(e) does not preclude recovery for injuries caused by the deprivation of due process constitutional rights, as they are distinct injuries from claims for mental and emotional harm. See: Ford v. Bender, U.S.D.C. (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:07-cv-11457-JGD; 2012 WL 262532.

The defendants subsequently filed a motion to vacate the judgment or to alter or amend the judgment in their favor, which was denied by the district court on April 19, 2012. They have since appealed to the First Circuit, which remains pending.

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Related legal case

Ford v. Bender