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Due Process Violation for “Sham” Reviews During 13 Years in Segregation

Due Process Violation for “Sham” Reviews During 13 Years in Segregation

by David M. Reutter

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to prison officials on a due process claim, holding there was sufficient evidence for a jury to determine whether a prisoner received “sham” reviews during almost 13 years in administrative segregation.

Michigan state prisoner Charles J. Selby was held in isolation at the Marquette Branch Prison from 1998 to 2011 after he was found to pose a serious escape risk. He is serving a life sentence for murder, a two-year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm and a two-to-five year sentence for attempted escape.

Seven years after his placement in solitary confinement, “Selby developed respiratory problems, frequent panic attacks, confusion, concentration and memory problems, infections, insomnia, paranoia, and hallucinations. He experienced despair, depression, and thoughts of suicide.”

After Selby filed suit, the federal district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on his due process and religious rights claims, and he appealed. Notably, Selby was released from segregation about 18 months after filing his lawsuit. By virtue of that release, his Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) claim was held to be moot, and he abandoned his First Amendment religious exercise claim.

In an October 31, 2013 decision, however, the Sixth Circuit found Selby had stated a viable due process claim. Considering the facts in this case, the appellate court said it had “no difficulty” in finding that 13 years of confinement in administrative segregation gives rise to a liberty interest.

There was no question that Selby presented a “very serious security risk” when he was initially placed in solitary. Yet the Court of Appeals concluded the record was not so one-sided that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on his due process claim.

The record contained conflicting affidavits over what was said and done during the 13 years of periodic reviews by prison officials. Selby contended that because there was a Correctional Facility Administrator (CFA) hold on his file, “the periodic reviews conducted by lower-level prison staff were perfunctory and meaningless.” He also argued that once the CFA denied release, a prisoner must remain in segregation for six more months – rendering the monthly reviews during that time period a sham. Further, “he was never informed why he was subject to a ‘CFA hold,’ what prison rule or policy he violated to warrant the hold, or how he could obtain removal of the hold.”

The Sixth Circuit found a factual dispute existed as to whether four misconduct reports Selby received over a ten-year period provided sufficient support to continue holding him in segregation, whether a decision to override his qualification for a lower security classification was warranted, and whether his more-than-decade-old escape attempt justified his placement in solitary for 13 years.

Those were issues a jury must resolve, and the appellate court therefore reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants on Selby’s due process claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Selby v. Caruso, 734 F.3d 554 (6th Cir. 2013).

Following remand, counsel was appointed for Selby in April 2014. The case proceeded to a federal jury trial in April 2015, and the jury entered a verdict in favor of the defendants. While failing to win at trial, Selby did at least achieve his release from long-term segregation.

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Related legal case

Selby v. Caruso