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Eighth Circuit Holds Missouri Prisoner with Vacated Conviction May Not Sue for Being Placed in Solitary Confinement

Missouri prisoner Brent Ballinger was serving an eight-year sentence in the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) when a state judge granted his motion, pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15(k), to vacate and set aside his conviction and sentence based upon ineffective assistance of counsel. The court ordered him remanded into the custody of the Cedar County Sheriff's Department for further proceedings in his criminal case. The state appealed.

The DOC placed Ballinger in administrative segregation "pending ... transfer by the County." He allegedly remained there for a year, until the state lost the appeal and the county finally picked him up.

Ballinger filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, against the county, its sheriff and several John and Jane Does, asserting he became a pretrial detainee when his conviction and sentence were vacated and the lengthy solitary confinement violated his due process

rights, He alleged the sheriff "purposely and maliciously refused to allow" his employees to pick up Ballinger knowing Ballinger would remain in segregation.

The named defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the rounds that Ballinger was still a prisoner while the appeal was paneling and had failed to plead how a year in solitary was a significant or atypical hardship compared to the ordinary incidents of prison life. The court granted the motion. Ballinger appealed.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that, pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 30.17, prisoners who receive relief under Rule 29.15(k) shall remain in custody during the pendency of an appeal by the state. The appeal stayed the court order vacating the conviction and sentence. Thus, Ballinger remained a state prisoner and would have had to plead that the solitary confinement was a significant or atypical hardship compared with the ordinary incidents of prison life to prevail. This he did not do. so the judgment of the district court was upheld with the exception of its application to the John and Jane Does, who had never appeared in court. That portion of the judgment was reversed in part and remanded with instructions to dismiss without prejudice Ballinger's claims against the John and Jane Does. See: Ballinger v. Cedar County, Missouri, 8th Cir., No. 14-3576 (decided January 14, 2016).


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Related legal case

Ballinger v. Cedar County