Partner Ishan K. Bhabha won a significant pro bono victory on behalf of Aaron Isby, a federal inmate who has been housed in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgement on Mr. Isby’s due process claim challenging his prolonged placement in isolation and remanded the case for further proceedings in the district court.
Mr. Isby was convicted of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury in 1989 and was incarcerated at a correctional facility in Indiana. After a violent altercation during a cell extraction, Mr. Isby was convicted of two counts of attempted murder and battery, sentenced to 40 additional years in prison and placed in solitary confinement in 1990. In 2006, Mr. Isby was transferred to a new correctional facility; weeks after his arrival, he was moved to solitary confinement where he has remained since. He is confined in his cell for 23 hours per day, eats all meals alone, and has essentially no human contact. Inmates placed in isolation have their placements reviewed every 30 or 90 days to determine if continued placement is necessary. In the 10 years that Mr. Isby has been in solitary confinement, he has received the same two-sentence reasoning for his continued placement in isolation at every review – “Your status has been reviewed and there are no changes recommended to the Southern Regional Director at this time. Your current Department‐ wide Administrative segregation status shall remain in effect unless otherwise rescinded by the Southern Regional Director.”
Mr. Isby filed suit against various prison employees, claiming his prolonged placement in solitary confinement violated his Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and his Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Due Process Clause. On May 10, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that his isolation did not constitute an Eighth Amendment violation as there was “no evidence of serious, physical, mental or psychological harm to Isby,” but the court reversed summary judgment on Mr. Isby’s due process claims. Given his lack of disciplinary problems for long stretches of time and the conflicting reasons for his segregation, the court found that there was a genuine dispute of fact as to whether the reviews of his confinement were meaningful, non-pretextual and meet constitutional due process standards.
Partner Barry Levenstam worked with Ishan on the brief; Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson and Paralegal Mary Frances Patston provided invaluable assistance.