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Ninth Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment in Lawsuit For CoreCivic Causing BOP Detainee’s Prolonged Detention Without Court Appearance or Attorney

by Matt Clarke

On May 28, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Corrections Corporation of America (now known as CoreCivic) was not entitled to summary judgment in a lawsuit over a pretrial detainee held for 355 days in solitary confinement without a court appearance or attorney. The court held that a reasonable jury could find that CoreCivic caused the prolonged detention by failing to notify the US Marshals of his circumstances and actively discouraging him from pursuing the matter. It also held that he had established triable issues for all of his claims.

The US Marshals Service (Marshals) arrested Rudy Rivera in Los Angeles, California on a federal warrant issued in Nevada for marijuana-related charges. They took him to the Nevada Southern Detention Center, a private prison operated by CoreCivic, which primarily holds detainees for the Marshals. Because he was a former gang member, Rivera was held in protective administrative segregation, virtually isolated from other prisoners and having direct contact only with CoreCivic staff.

According to court documents, during his detention, Rivera repeatedly told prison staff he had not been to court and did not have an attorney. They told him to “[j]ust sit there and wait,” that the federal government “does what they want to” and “[t]hey‘ll get you when they’re going to come get you.” He was not told that he was in the custody of the Marshals or that he could speak with a Marshal deputy who frequently came to the prison and could address his concerns.

These interactions with prison staff led Rivera to believe his case was proceeding normally and there was nothing he could do to prompt a court hearing. Finally, as his detention approached a year after being arrested he wrote to the Federal Public Defender’s Office to prove to his girlfriend that he had still not been to court. That office immediately contacted the Marshals who took Rivera to court for a hearing the next business day. The judge ordered his immediate release on his own recognizance and the charges were eventually dismissed.

Rivera filed a federal lawsuit against CoreCivic and prison staff in Nevada federal court alleging false imprisonment, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Nevada law. The court granted CoreCivic summary judgment and, aided by Las Vegas attorney Mitchell Bisson of the 911 Law Group, Rivera appealed.

The Ninth Circuit held that, although CoreCivic could not schedule a court hearing or release Rivera on its own authority, its failure to notify the Marshals of his situation could reasonably be found to have caused the prolonged detention. A rational jury could also find that CoreCivic employee dissuaded Rivera from seeking outside help on his own.

The court held that a jury could also reasonably find that CoreCivic breached a duty it had to Rivera, failed to exercise reasonable care by failing to notify the Marshals of his prolonged detention, and engaged in actions that were extreme or outrageous. Thus, he established a triable issue for each of his claims. Therefore, the summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded. See: Rivera v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 999 F.3d 647 (9th Cir. 2021). 

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Related legal case

Rivera v. Corr. Corp. of Am.