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Browning v. Vernon

filed: January 10, 1995.

LAWNY LAMAR BROWNING, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
RICHARD A. VERNON, DIRECTOR; RON MCKINSEY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho. D.C. No. CV-91-00409-HLR. Harold L. Ryan, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Robert R. Beezer and Ferdinand F. Fernandez, Circuit Judges, and William H. Orrick,*fn* District Judge. Opinion by Judge Beezer.

Author: Beezer

BEEZER, Circuit Judge:

Defendants, Richard Vernon and Ron McKinsey, appeal the district court's denial of their motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs, a class of inmates in the North Idaho Correctional Institution, filed action alleging due process violations in the administration of Idaho's retained jurisdiction program. Vernon and McKinsey contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity from damages because the allegations in the complaint do not constitute violations of a clearly established liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. The district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Pelletier v. Federal Home Loan Bank, 968 F.2d 865, 869 (9th Cir. 1992). We affirm.

I

A group of several hundred inmates ("Inmates") at the North Idaho Correctional Institution ("NICI") filed this class action seeking declaratory relief, injunctive relief and punitive damages for violations of their due process rights in connection with the retained jurisdiction program (the "Rider Program").*fn1 The inmates sued the administrators of the Rider Program, Richard Vernon, Director of the Idaho Department of Correction, and Ron McKinsey, warden of the North Idaho Correctional Institution, in both their individual and official capacities. The inmates state that the purpose of the Rider Program is to place offenders in a setting where they may be evaluated for their potential for probation. They argue that the program creates a liberty interest in an objective and accurate assessment of their probation potential and that they are being denied this right without due process of law.

In 1972, Idaho created the Rider Program by statute. Under the program, a state district court may retain jurisdiction over an individual upon conviction of a felony.*fn2 Instead of ordering the defendant to begin serving the full sentence immediately, the sentencing court may place the individual in a correctional institution to be evaluated for potential release on probation. Toward the end of the retained jurisdiction period, the Jurisdictional Review Committee ("JRC") sends a report and recommendation to the sentencing court with a recommendation to either release the inmate on probation or revoke jurisdiction and order the inmate to serve out the remainder of the original sentence.

At issue is the preparation of the report and recommendation by NICI staff. The process, as described by Vernon and McKinsey, begins when the inmate is notified of the initial rehabilitation recommendation. The inmate is permitted to read all evaluations and the initial recommendation. An inmate with a negative rehabilitation recommendation is then immediately placed in segregated confinement. Approximately twenty four hours later, the inmate is brought before the JRC and permitted to rebut any information or recommendations made by the JRC. At this rebuttal hearing, the inmate may make an oral or written rebuttal statement and call members of the NICI staff and other inmates as witnesses. Based on all of this information, the JRC issues a final report which is forwarded to the sentencing court.

The inmates do not dispute these facts but claim that this process violates the Due Process Clause of both the United States Constitution and the Idaho Constitution. The inmates contend that (1) the one day notice is inadequate time to prepare for the rebuttal hearing; (2) although they are permitted to review the report and recommendation, they are not allowed to retain a copy for use in preparing their rebuttal; (3) they are given an inadequate explanation of negative evaluations prior to the rebuttal hearing; and (4) because they are immediately segregated from the general population, they are unable to contact witnesses and call them at the rebuttal hearing.

The district court denied Vernon's and McKinsey's motions for summary judgment, holding that the inmates have a protected liberty interest in a fair and accurate recommendation report which they were denied without due process of law. The district court further held that Vernon and McKinsey are not entitled to qualified immunity from liability for the Section 1983 claims.*fn3

II

We review de novo both a district court's decision concerning constitutional rights and its decision to deny qualified immunity in a section 1983 action. National Ass'n of Radiation Survivors v. Derwinski, 994 F.2d 583, 587 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 126 L. Ed. 2d 592, 114 S. Ct. 634 (1993); Elder v. Holloway, 127 L. Ed. 2d 344, 114 S. Ct. 1019, 1023 (1994).

III

Section 1983 permits claims for money damages against any person who, acting under color of state law, denies an individual rights, privileges or immunities guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. In order to state a Section 1983 cause of action brought pursuant to the Due Process Clause, the inmates ...


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