This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Henry L. Woodruff,
Kevin Goodno, et al.,
Filed May 17, 2005
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C9-03-13148
Henry L. Woodruff, 1111 Highway 73,
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Kerri Stahlecker Hermann,
Assistant Attorney General,
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
Appellant Henry Woodruff challenges the district court’s decision to dismiss his complaint, arguing that respondents deprived him of a constitutionally protected liberty interest and did not follow state laws and regulations when appellant was placed in protective isolation. Because we conclude that the district court did not err in dismissing appellant’s complaint, we affirm.
Appellant is a committed resident in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). On October 9, 2003, appellant was placed in protective isolation (PI) and was only allowed to contact his attorney, a MSOP ombudsman, and a patient’s advocate. Appellant subsequently received a document from MSOP staff describing why he was placed into PI. The document indicated that appellant was suspected of attempting to extort finances from another patient and that he was the subject of a criminal investigation regarding a “life threatening” assault of a MSOP staff member. The document added that appellant was “believed to present an ongoing and imminent risk to the safety of staff.”
The following day, appellant and the patient’s advocate appeared before a PI review panel, which denied appellant’s request to cease PI. Appellant challenged that ruling to the MSOP clinical director but did not receive a reply. On October 16, 2003, appellant and the patient’s advocate appeared before the Hospital Review Board (HRB), which denied appellant’s request to cease PI and extended its use for ten additional days. Appellant again challenged this ruling to the MSOP clinical director, and his appeal was denied on October 20, 2003. Appellant was released from PI on October 24, 2003. MSOP staff subsequently restricted appellant’s telephone calls and screened his mail for six months. Finally, appellant alleged in his complaint that, weeks after he was released from PI, the HRB determined in hindsight that appellant should not have been placed in PI and should not have had his telephone calls and mail screened.
In January and February 2004, appellant brought an amended complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction against several respondents affiliated with MSOP, alleging that he was deprived of his rights under various federal and state constitutional provisions, state statutes, state administrative rules, and MSOP policies. For example, appellant claimed that respondents did not hire qualified staff for the MSOP institution; intentionally filed false allegations against him, which were used as a pretext to place him in PI; and failed to follow MSOP procedures before placing him into PI, such as neglecting to conduct a behavioral interview. The district court denied appellant’s motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, finding that appellant’s telephone and mail restrictions had been lifted and all other allegations were speculative. In July 2004, the district court granted respondents’ motion to dismiss, reasoning that appellant’s allegations were conclusory and not supported by facts. This appeal follows.
The district court
considered materials outside the pleadings in granting respondents’ motion to
dismiss, so the motion is therefore reviewed as one for summary judgment.
MSOP staff may impose PI “when necessary to
ensure a safe, secure, and orderly environment for the treatment program.” Minn. R. 9515.3090, subp. 1 (2003). PI cannot be ordered for the convenience of
staff and it cannot be imposed for more than 48 hours unless staff recommends a
continuance in a written statement to the medical director.
Appellant argues that there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude the grant of summary judgment, namely, that he was deprived of his due process liberty interest to be free from PI and that respondents did not comply with state laws and regulations when imposing PI. Respondents contend that appellant does not have a liberty interest to be free from PI and even if he does have a liberty interest, appellant received adequate due process when he was placed in PI.
Appellant argues that he was deprived of a liberty interest because involuntarily-committed patients do not lose their due process rights upon confinement. See, e.g., Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 315-16, 102 S. Ct. 2452, 2458 (1982) (concluding that committed patients retain liberty interests in personal security and freedom from bodily restraint); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 673, 97 S. Ct. 1401, 1413 (1977) (“Among the historic liberties so protected was a right to be free from and to obtain judicial relief, for unjustified intrusions on personal security.”). But the range of liberty interests that triggers due process for prisoners and patients such as appellant is narrow and finite. In other words, the shorter the time period of PI, the less likely a liberty interest will be implicated. Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 486-87, 115 S. Ct. 2293, 2301-02 (1995) (holding that prisoner’s 30-day segregated confinement did not implicate a protected liberty interest); Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 539, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 1874 n.21 (1979) (observing that Constitution is “not concerned” with “a de minimis level of imposition”) (quotation omitted); Ingraham, 430 U.S. at 672, 97 S. Ct. at 1413 (“We have repeatedly rejected the notion that any grievous loss visited upon a person by the State is sufficient to invoke the procedural protections of the Due Process Clause.”) (quotation omitted); Smith v. Copeland, 87 F.3d 265, 268 (8th Cir. 1996) (holding that pretrial detainee subjected to four days confinement with exposure to raw sewage did not trigger constitutional claim).
Here, based on
respondents’ documented safety concerns, appellant was subjected to PI for 15
days and had his phone and mail privileges monitored for a period of
months. Appellant has brought forth no evidence
showing that his isolation was an “atypical and significant hardship” that
implicates due process concerns. Sandin,
Even if appellant did have a due process
liberty interest to be free from PI, he received meaningful opportunities to
present his case before two impartial tribunals, the PI panel and the HRB. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424
also contends that respondents did not comply with state laws and regulations
when PI was instituted, but he presents no evidence that the proper procedures
were not followed. And, the facts show
that he was accompanied by a patient’s representative and had ample opportunity
to plead his case before the PI panel and the HRB. See Minn.
R. 9515.3090, subp. 5 (detailing procedural requirements for patient’s PI
appeal). Additionally, the MSOP staff
recommended a longer duration of PI to the medical director in a written
statement justifying the recommendation, stating that appellant was suspected
of extortion of another patient, was the subject of a criminal-assault
investigation, and represented an ongoing and imminent risk at the facility. See id.,
subp. 4C (requiring written statement from MSOP staff if PI is continued). Appellant’s amended complaint only contained
conclusory allegations that did not raise a genuine issue of material fact for
trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986) (“One of the principal
purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually
unsupported claims or defenses, and we think it should be interpreted in a way
that allows it to accomplish this purpose.”).
Finally, MSOP administrators
“should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of
policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal
order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.”
Appellant next argues that the district court unfairly denied his right to counsel. Appellant cites portions of the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act (Act) in support of this proposition. See Minn. Stat. § 253B.07, subd. 2c (2004) (“A patient has the right to be represented by counsel at any proceeding under this chapter.”). Because appellant merely made civil and constitutional claims in his amended complaint, rather than a claim under the Act, he has no right to counsel. In certain criminal proceedings, the district court must appoint counsel for a defendant, Minn. R. Crim. P. 5.02, subd. 1. But those rights do not extend to plaintiff-appellant, who is asserting civil and constitutional claims for relief. On this record, the district court did not err in denying appellant’s claim for appointment of counsel, and we affirm its judgment for respondents.
PI is defined as placing a patient in a room that does not contain a means of exit “as a way of defusing or containing dangerous behavior that is uncontrollable by any other means.” Minn. R. 9515.3090, subp. 4 (2003).
The HRB is a panel consisting of three or more persons to review and
investigate issues arising in regional treatment facilities.