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Increased Custody for STG Violates Due Process

Richard Johnson v. Charles Ryan, et al. Docket: 20-15293. Opinion Date: December 15, 2022. Plaintiff, an Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) inmate, is a validated member of a Security Threat Group (STG) and, pursuant to ADC’s policy, has been assigned to maximum custody confinement. Plaintiff first argued that ADC’s annual reviews of his maximum-security confinement are insufficient to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, Defendant claimed that his removal from ADC’s Step-Down Program (SDP) violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court screened his complaint, dismissing his claim regarding ADC’s annual reviews for failure to state a claim. The district court later granted summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff’s claims regarding his removal from the SDP. Plaintiff appealed, challenging both orders. The Ninth Circuit (1) affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Defendant’s claim ADC’s annual reviews of his maximum-security confinement were insufficient to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (2) reversed the district court’s summary judgment for defendants and remanded on Defendant’s claims that his removal from the Department’s Step-Down Program. The panel held that Plaintiff has a liberty interest in avoiding assignment to maximum custody as a consequence of his STG validation. Nevertheless, Plaintiff failed to state a claim for a due process violation under the three-prong framework set forth in Mathews v. Eldridge. However, because Plaintiff was not given a meaningful opportunity to learn of the factual basis for his transfer from close custody to maximum custody or to prepare a defense to the accusations, Plaintiff was likely denied due process in the procedures that resulted in his return to maximum custody.


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