Eighth Circuit Rules Pretrial Detainees and Prisoners Have Right to Visit Family Members
In a precedential ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that “prisoners and pretrial detainees have a right to be free from arbitrary or permanent limitations on visits with family members.”
The Court’s opinion was issued on September 20, 2021, in an appeal brought by Shawn Manning, who was a pretrial detainee at the Muscatine County Jail (MCJ) in Iowa between October 2017 and August 2018.
At the time, he had two children aged 11 and 13. But a blanket policy at MCJ prohibited pretrial detainees from visits by minor children. As a result, Manning had no visitation with his children for 10 months while detained there.
After his release in August 2018, Manning filed suit pro se in federal court for the Southern District of Iowa, accusing Muscatine County Sheriff C.J. Ryan and various MCJ officials and staff of violating his constitutional rights. Manning sought injunctive relief, punitive damages and an order directing MCJ to change its policy.
Defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming qualified immunity because they said the right at issue was not clearly established. The district court agreed, and it granted the motion. See: Manning v. Ryan, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 229484 (S.D. Iowa). Manning appealed.
Taking up the case then, the Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that “our case law up to now has not necessarily made clear that MCJ officials violated Manning’s constitutional rights by enforcing the blanket prohibition on visitation with minor children, and so qualified immunity was appropriate to protect the defendants from liability.”
But the Court did not stop there, saying “time is ripe, however, to clearly establish that such behavior may amount to a constitutional violation in the future.” Agreeing with the ruling of its neighboring circuit in Easterling v. Thurmer, 880 F.3d 319 (7th Cir. 2018)—which held that “prison officials who permanently or arbitrarily deny an inmate visits with family members in disregard of the factors described in Turner [v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78 (1987)] and Overton [v. Bazzetta 539 U.S. 126 (2003)] have acted in violation of the Constitution”—the Court said it was “mak[ing] clear that prisoners and pretrial detainees have a right to be free from arbitrary or permanent limitations on visits with family members.” See: Manning v. Ryan, 13 F.4th 705 (8th Cir. 2021).
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