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Maine Judge Rules Prisoner's Nearly Two-Year Stay in Segregation Without Explanation Defies Due Process, Orders Hearing on Damages

by Lonnie Burton

On March 23, 2015, Kennebec, Maine, Superior Court Justice M. Michaels Murphy found in favor of a state prisoner who claimed prison officials violated his due process rights for placing him in solitary confinement for almost two years without justification. She then set a hearing to determine what, if any damages or remedies should be ordered in the case since the prisoner is now back in general population.

According to court records, Douglas Burr was a prisoner at the Maine State Prison serving a 60-year sentence for murder when, on June 12, 2014, after serving nearly 20 years of his sentence without any disciplinary problems, he was placed on administrative segregation after it was alleged that he and his wife were involved in smuggling and selling drugs in the prison. Burr was issued a disciplinary report for the allegations, and he was found guilty eight days later. The infraction was dismissed on appeal because of "the untimely nature of this hearing."

After a rehearing again found Burr guilty, it was also reversed at the Maine DOC headquarters level for unexplained reasons. However, Burr was retained in segregation, and DOC lawyers contended that there were no plans to let him out. DOC lawyers also told the court that Burr could be held in solitary confinement "indefinitely."

Burr challenged his continued segregation by exhausting the prison's grievance process, and then filing an administrative appeal in Kennebec County Superior Court. Burr sought injunctive relief and damages from prison officials and from a guard who Burr said falsified the disciplinary report. Burr claimed that prison officials lacked any basis to hold him in segregation because "they lacked the evidence" to even support an infraction.

In her March 23 order, Justice Murphy found there were "procedural irregularities" in the case and ordered prison officials to refund any lost good time and monetary fines imposed on Burr and to clear his disciplinary record. She denied Burr's request for transfer to another prison.

As to Burr's request for damages, the judge found that question to be unclear because Burr has since been moved back to general population. Murphy therefore ordered Burr to clarify what relief he still seeks, and directed both sides to submit briefing as to whether he is legally entitled to it. See: Burr v. Bouffard, Docket No. AP-14-57, (Kennebec, ME S. Ct. 2015).


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Related legal case

Burr v. Bouffard