The Court of Appeals held that prison officials’ assignment of pretrial detainee, Almighty Supreme Born Allah, to administrative segregation violated his substantive due process rights and that the prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity.
AFFIRMED and REVERSED.
In October 2010, a man named Almighty Supreme Born Allah was being held in prison awaiting trial for drug charges. Prison guards kept Allah in solitary confinement for over a year and forced him to wear leg irons and wet underwear while showering. This torturous treatment was due entirely to one incident of supposed “misconduct” by Allah—he once asked a guard if he could speak to a lieutenant about why he wasn’t being allowed to visit commissary.
Pretrial detainee, Almighty Supreme Born Allah, brought 1983 action against prison officials, claiming his due process rights were violated when he was assigned to administrative segregation. In December of 2015, the District Court of Connecticut held a two-day bench trial at which plaintiff Allah and the defendants testified. The District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled in favor of the detainee, holding that the Defendants violated the Plaintiff’s due process rights and that the Defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. The District Court awarded Allah $62,650 in damages. The prison officials appealed.
In a split decision, the second circuit AFFIRMED the district court’s decision that Allah’s substantive due process rights were violated. Circuit Judge Gerard E. Lynch writes, “[U]nder the Due Process Clause, a detainee may not be punished prior to an adjudication of guilt in accordance with due process of law.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). The Court determined that pre-trial detainment must serve a reasonable, non-punitive purpose such as a legitimate government interest in the security of a prison. However, the district court found no such evidence that the Plaintiff posed a risk to institutional security. Yet, Allah was isolated in his cell for 23 hours a day and required to wear restrains when out of his cell, including when showering, with very limited opportunities to see his family.
The district court found that the prison officials detained Plaintiff Allah solely on the basis that he did not complete his Administrative Segregation program during his prior term of incarceration. In doing so, the prison officials failed to make an “individualized or specific finding of the risk Allah may have presented.” Allah, 2016 WL 1311997, at 9-10. Thus, the circuit court agreed with the district court that “Allah’s substantive due process rights were violated when he was assigned to Administrative Segregation in October 2010 while a pretrial detainee.” Allah v. Milling, 876 F.3d 48 (2nd Cir. 2017).
Under the circumstances of this case, prison officials’ October 2010 placement of Allah in Administrative Segregation cannot be said to be reasonably related to institutional security, and Defendants have identified no other legitimate governmental purpose justifying the placement. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court ‘permissible … infer[red] that the purpose of the government action [was] punishment that may not constitutionally be inflicted upon detainess qua detainees.’ Wolfish, 441 U.S. at 539, 99 S.Ct. 1861. Allah v. Milling, 876 F.3d 48 (2nd Cir. 2017).
The second circuit REVERSED the district court’s decision not to grant Defendants qualified immunity. Even though the circuit court agreed that Wolfish determined that pretrial detainees have a substantive due process right not to be subjected to restrictions amounting to punishment, and despite that the circuit court affirmed the district court’s holding that Defendants violated Plaintiff’s due process rights, the second circuit reversed the district court’s decision not to grant Defendants qualified immunity on the basis that Wolfish does not clearly establish that Allah’s placement in Administrative Segregation based on his prior assignment, specifically, violated due process. According to the second circuit, Allah’s argument and its qualified immunity analysis relies on “high level of generality” and does not identify other case law with facts similar enough to the particular facts of Allah’s case. While the second circuit concurred with Allah’s argument that Wolfish clearly established the “right to be free from punishment before guilt,” the second circuit “conclude(s) that Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and cannot be held liable for civil damages for violating Allah’s substantive due process rights.”
Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler dissented from the portion of the majority’s opinion granting qualified immunity “in light of the similarity of Allah’s conditions to the Supreme Court’s example in Wolfish, and in light of the lack of legitimate government interest in instituting those conditions.”