- Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
- Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
- Date Filed: 12-15-2022
- Case #: No. 20-15293
- Judge(s)/Court Below: Bybee, Circuit Judge, for the Court; joined by Nelson, Circuit Judge, for the Court; and Rakoff, District Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part
- Full Text Opinion
Johnson was a validated member of a Security Threat Group (STG) in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) who was assigned to maximum custody confinement pursuant to ADC’s policy. He alleged he was confined to his cell for 24 hours per day, strip searched, and handcuffed every time he left his cell. ADC offered two pathways out of maximum security: renouncing STG membership and debriefing or completing the Step-Down Program (SDP). Johnson was removed from SDP following an inconclusive polygraph. He argued (1) that ADC’s annual reviews of his confinement were inadequate to satisfy the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, and (2) that his removal from SDP violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.
When analyzing an inmate’s procedural due process claim, the court engages in a two-step analysis, considering whether: (1) the inmate was deprived of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest, and (2) that deprivation was accompanied by sufficient procedural protections. See United States v. 101 Houseco, LLC, 22 F.4th 843, 851 (9th Cir. 2022). In order to determine whether the procedural protections provided are sufficient at the second step, the court looks at (1) the private interest affected; (2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation and the probable value of any additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and (3) the government’s interest. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976). The Court determined that while Johnson had a liberty interest in avoiding maximum custody confinement, he failed to state a claim for a due process violation under Mathews because he did not challenge the procedures by which his STG membership was validated, but rather the annual reviews of his confinement status. The Court also noted Johnson’s freedom to utilize another pathway out of maximum security by renouncing his status and debriefing at any time, indicating that he did retain some control over the review process. Therefore, the annual review process did satisfy due process.
To establish a property interest in a benefit, “a person clearly must have. . . a legitimate claim of entitlement to it.” Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1974). Although “[a] state-created right can, in some circumstances, beget yet other rights to procedures essential to the realization of the parent right,” Conn. Bd. of Pardons v. Dumschat, 452 U.S. 458, 463 (1981), a plaintiff does not have an independent right to those procedures. See Dist. Att’y’s Off. for Third Jud. Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52, 67–68 (2009). The Court concluded that because SDP is a process by which inmates can prove their readiness to return to the general prison population and leave maximum custody, it was not itself a liberty interest. However, the changed underlying conditions of confinement upon Johnson’s return to maximum security did implicate a liberty interest deserving of due process. Because Johnson did not receive a meaningful opportunity to learn the factual basis for his removal or prepare a defense to the accusations, he was denied due process in the procedures preceding his return to maximum custody.
A First Amendment claim in the context of incarcerated individuals has five elements: (1) adverse action by a state actor against the inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner’s protected conduct, and the action (4) chilled the inmate’s exercise of his First Amendment rights and (5) did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal. Chavez v. Robinson, 12 F.4th 978, 1001 (9th Cir. 2021). To establish a retaliatory motive, an inmate “must show that his protected conduct was the substantial or motivating factor behind the defendant’s conduct.” Brodheim v. Cry, 584 F.3d 1262, 1271 (9th Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted). The alleged facts, that Johnson was told the “higher-ups” wanted him off of the yard and that “jailhouse lawyers” were not welcome in his unit, could lead a jury to rule in Johnson’s favor. Additionally, there was a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Johnson’s removal from SDP actually advanced a legitimate penological purpose. The grant of summary judgment to ADC on Johnson’s First Amendment claim was therefore erroneous.
Affirmed in part, reversed and remanded in part.