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Ford v. Bender

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 24, 2014

ALBERT FORD, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
JAMES BENDER AND PETER ST. AMAND, Defendants, Appellants

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APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Judith G. Dein, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

Nancy Ankers White, Special Assistant Attorney General, with whom William D. Saltzman, Counsel, Department of Correction, was on brief, for appellants.

Lisa J. Pirozzolo, with whom Emily R. Schulman, Timothy D. Syrett and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP were on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Selya and Howard, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

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HOWARD, Circuit Judge.

The Supreme Court has made clear that a pretrial detainee enjoys a due process right to be free from punishment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). At the same time, a state has a valid interest in promoting the security of detention facilities for the safety of detainees and staff. Id. at 540. This case, concerned with an individual inmate, illustrates one way in which these two interests might come into conflict.

Plaintiff-appellee Albert Ford was held in disciplinary segregated confinement throughout a period of pretrial detention and into a subsequent criminal sentence as punishment for conduct that had occurred while he was imprisoned during a prior criminal sentence. The district court[1] ruled that Ford's punitive disciplinary confinement violated due process, and the court also largely denied two high-ranking prison officials' claims of qualified immunity, awarding Ford partial money damages and equitable relief as well as attorneys' fees and costs.

We reverse the denial of qualified immunity, and therefore reverse the award of money damages against the prison officials in their individual capacities, because we find that the defendants did not violate Ford's clearly established rights. We also vacate on mootness grounds the declaratory and injunctive relief ordered by the district court. We remand for the district

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court to determine appropriate attorneys' fees and costs as to any equitable relief not moot when issued.

I. BACKGROUND

A summary of the facts and procedural background of the case suffices. Greater detail is amply provided by the district court's numerous opinions. See Ford v. Bender (Ford V), 903 F.Supp.2d 90 (D. Mass. 2012); Ford v. Bender (Ford IV), No. 07-11457, 2012 WL 1378651 (D. Mass. Apr. 19, 2012); Ford v. Bender (Ford III), No. 07-11457, 2012 WL 262532 (D. Mass. Jan. 27, 2012); Ford v. Bender (Ford II) No. 07-11457, 2010 WL 4781757 (D. Mass. Nov. 16, 2010); Ford v. Clarke (Ford I), 746 F.Supp.2d 273 (D. Mass. 2010).

Factual Background

In 1992, Ford was sentenced in state court to fifteen to twenty-five years imprisonment in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction (MCI-Cedar Junction), a state penitentiary in Walpole, Massachusetts.[2] While serving his sentence, Ford was repeatedly housed in the Department Disciplinary Unit (DDU), a segregated maximum security housing unit, for offenses committed during confinement. These included being in possession of a weapon, conspiring to introduce heroin, and conspiring to assault other inmates.

In 2002, while housed in the DDU, Ford violently attacked two officers and took a nurse hostage. The officers had escorted Ford to a triage room and adjusted his handcuffs to allow him to test his blood sugar and administer his insulin. While his right hand was un-cuffed, Ford produced a four-and-a-half inch shank from his clothing, stabbed both officers twice, and held the weapon to the nurse's throat until other staff arrived. One officer required immediate medical attention for the puncture wounds in his mid and lower back. In January 2003, after a full disciplinary hearing, Ford was given the administrative sanction of a ten-year term in the DDU, the maximum DDU sanction possible. The hearing officer explained that " Inmate Ford is a danger to staff and his continued placement in the Department's most secure setting is warranted." At that point, Ford had years left on his state sentence of fifteen to twenty-five years imprisonment.

Ford's 2002 misconduct in prison had state law criminal consequences as well. In 2002, he was charged with and indicted for armed assault with intent to murder. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § § 15B, 18.

Ford completed his original criminal sentence on January 6, 2007, less than the twenty-five year maximum; the record is unclear as to why. He remained, however, in the custody of the DOC as a pretrial detainee for the new criminal assault with intent to murder charge. See id. ch. 276, § 52A. The Deputy Commissioner of Correction at the time, defendant-appellant James Bender, made the decision to keep Ford in the DDU to continue serving his ten-year sanction without a new hearing, despite the change in Ford's status from sentenced inmate to pretrial detainee. Bender testified that, " [b]ased on . . . his entire history, my serious concerns about safety and security of staff and inmates, I felt that the most appropriate placement for him at that time was at DDU."

In March 2007, Ford was granted bail in the pending assault case, and he was released

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from the DOC's custody. On June 26, 2007, however, the state court revoked his bail based on a charge that he had mailed heroin to an inmate. He was returned to MCI-Cedar Junction. Bender once more consigned Ford, still a pretrial detainee on the pending assault charge, to the DDU to continue serving the previously imposed ten-year sanction, without any new hearing on whether that sanction should be enforced.

In July 2007, Ford first protested his continued confinement in the DDU. Defendant-appellant Peter St. Amand, the Superintendent of MCI-Cedar Junction, advised Ford in a written communique that he was " properly housed in the DDU serving the remainder of a ten (10) year DDU sentence that [he] received [in 2003]." The communique further averred that Ford's status as a pretrial detainee did not bar the DOC from requiring him to serve out the previously imposed disciplinary sanction.

On April 30, 2008, Ford pled guilty to the pending criminal charges of assault with intent to murder and mailing heroin to an inmate. By pleading guilty to assault with intent to murder, Ford admitted to the same conduct for which the ten-year DDU sanction had been imposed. The court sentenced Ford to four to five years in prison with credit for time served. Bender kept Ford, now a convicted and sentenced inmate, in the DDU to serve out the balance of the ten-year sanction. No additional hearing was held after Ford's guilty plea.

Unsurprisingly, the record reflects that conditions in the DDU are considerably more onerous than conditions of confinement for the general population at MCI-Cedar Junction. While confined in the DDU, an inmate is kept for twenty-three hours a day in a cell measuring seven by twelve feet. Each cell has a solid steel door with a small inset window; a narrow window to the outdoors; a cement bed, desk, and stool; and a toilet visible through the inset window. A DDU inmate typically leaves his cell for only one hour a day to exercise (five days a week) and to shower (three days a week). He is subject to strip searches whenever he enters or leaves his cell. When a DDU inmate is out of his cell for any reason, he is manacled and placed in leg chains.

DDU inmates are socially isolated. Each inmate receives his meals through a slot in the steel door and is given only twenty minutes to eat. The prison library is off-limits, although a DDU inmate may receive law books from a " book cart," which requires a formal request and typically results in a wait of eight days. Communication with other inmates, guards, and the outside world is severely restricted: at a maximum, four monthly noncontact visits and four monthly telephone calls may be earned as a privilege for good behavior.

While any prisoner would suffer under these severe conditions, Ford was particularly unsuited to them due to his Type I diabetes. Ford required regular insulin shots and, while in the DDU, he received fewer shots than needed. This shortfall resulted in blood sugar spikes causing headaches, dizziness, a racing heart, shakes, and tremors. Diabetic neuropathy led to burning, tingling, and numbness in his feet and ...


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