By Mike Stephens
On November 7, 2016, the Fourth Circuit decided the criminal case of Dilworth v. Adams. Michael Dilworth (“Dilworth”) was being held as a pretrial detainee in a North Carolina detention facility, facing charges for failing to appear in court. While detained, Dilworth was involved in an altercation with a fellow inmate and an separate altercation with two correctional officers. Dilworth was placed in disciplinary segregation, without a hearing, following both altercations. Dilworth appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in defendants’ favor, arguing that the district court erred in finding Dilworth’s procedural due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were not violated when Dilworth was denied a hearing. Additionally, Dilworth appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on his claim of excessive force, arguing the district court applied the wrong standard governing a claim of excessive force. The Fourth Circuit held that Dilworth’s due process rights were violated by not providing a hearing, and directed that judgment be entered in favor of Dilworth because the defendants concede no hearing took place. The Fourth Circuit also remanded the excessive force claim given that a subsequent Supreme Court of the United States decision clarified that an objective standard governed the claim.
Facts and Procedural History
While awaiting trial for failure to appear in court, Dilworth was involved in an altercation with a fellow inmate on May 11, 2013. The responding officer filed a disciplinary report, stating he had disciplined Dilworth by placing him in segregation for 45 days. This decision was approved by the commander. On May 21, Dilworth filed a written appeal demanding a hearing which was later dismissed after being reviewed by another correctional officer. Dilworth was released from segregation on June 20 without ever being granted a hearing.
Not long after being released from segregation, Dilworth was involved in an altercation with two officers, Officer Cookson and Officer Trott. The parties dispute how the altercation was started. Yet again, a disciplinary report was filed stating Dilworth had been placed in segregation for 45 days. The decision was again approved by the watch commander. Again, Dilworth filed a written appeal demanding a hearing and review of video evidence regarding the altercation. The appeal was again dismissed. Dilworth served the full 45 day sentence in segregation. Dilworth sued several correctional officers, claiming his due process rights were violated by failing to provide hearings and also claiming the officers in the second altercation used excessive force.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on both claims. The district court reasoned that Dilworth’s due process rights were not violated because Dilworth was given notice of the charges and the opportunity to file a written appeal. Additionally, the district court applied a subjective standard on the excessive force claim, holding that Dilworth had to show that Cookson and Trott used force “maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” The court held that no reasonable jury could find the officers had a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Dilworth appealed.
Due Process Claim
The Fourth Circuit held that Dilworth’s due process rights were violated by not granting a hearing. Given the fact that no hearing took place, the Court directed that judgment be entered in Dilworth’s favor.
Due process claims require two inquiries: (1) whether placing Dilworth in disciplinary segregation “implicated a liberty interest triggering procedural due process requirements;” and (2) if yes, whether the procedures provided to Dilworth satisfied those liberty interests.
In the first inquiry, the Court, agreeing with the district court, found that a pretrial detainee had a liberty interest in freedom from “punishment” while detained and awaiting trial. Defendants argued that only punishments that impose “atypical and significant hardship” on prisoners violated a liberty interest. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, stating that the “atypical and significant hardship” standard did not apply when deciding procedural due process claims of pretrial detainees. The court held that that the Bell v. Wolfish standard of procedural due process claims grant pretrial detainees a liberty interest in freedom from “punishment.” The Court also held that placing Dilworth in segregation was a “punishment” because there was a “expressed intent to punish” given Dilworth was confined to his cell for 23 hours each day and denied all personal contact except with attorneys or members of the clergy. Thus, the Fourth Circuit answered the first inquiry of the due process claim in the affirmative.
In the second inquiry, the Court held that the detention facility failed to meet the “procedural minimums that pertain even in the prison setting.” In Wolff v. McDonnell, the Supreme Court of the United States held that an inmate must be provided a hearing, a written notice of the alleged violation 24 hours before the hearing, and a written statement, after the hearing, detailing the reasons for the disciplinary action. The Court made note of the fact that the detention facility published these requirements within its own policy regarding inmate discipline. The defendants conceded that these requirements were not provided to Dilworth and no factual dispute existed regarding the process Dilworth received. While an inmate may not be provided the same process as a defendant in a trial, such as the right to counsel, the minimum requires a hearing where the inmate may call some witnesses. The Court was also careful to note that “administrative segregation,” or segregation for a temporary amount of time following an altercation, was allowed, provided that the inmate is later given a hearing. Yet, the Fourth Circuit held that Dilworth was not provided a hearing and that the segregation amounted to a punishment and Dilworth’s procedural due process rights were violated as a matter of law. Thus, the Court remanded to resolve Dilworth’s damages claim.
Excessive Force Claim
The Fourth Circuit remanded Dilworth’s excessive force claim so that the district court could apply the proper standard set out in the intervening Supreme Court decision, Kingsley v. Hendrickson. In Kingsley, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a pretrial detainee’s excessive force claim should be governed by an objective standard. A pretrial detainee has to show that the force “purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable.” Both parties agreed that the district court had not applied the Kingsley standard to Dilworth’s claim. Therefore, the Court remanded so that the district court could apply the proper standard. The Fourth Circuit also recommended that the district court should view the video that may show evidence regarding this claim, citing to a decision that held a grant of summary judgment on an excessive force claim premature when the trial court did not view video evidence of the altercation.
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in defendant’s father on Dilworth’s due process claim and ordered that judgment be entered for Dilworth. The Court remanded this claim so the district court could resolve the damages claim. The Court also vacated the district court’s decision regarding Dilworth’s excessive force claim and remanded it for further proceedings.