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Karsjens v. Piper

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 3, 2017

Kevin Scott Karsjens; David Leroy Gamble; Kevin John DeVillion; Peter Gerard Lonergan; James Matthew Noyer, Sr.; James John Rud; James Allen Barber; Craig Allen Bolte; Dennis Richard Steiner; Kaine Joseph Braun; Christopher John Thuringer; Kenny S. Daywitt; Bradley Wayne Foster; Brian K. Hausfeld, and all others similarly situated Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
Emily Johnson Piper; Kevin Moser; Peter Puffer; Nancy Johnston; Jannine Hebert; Ann Zimmerman, in their official capacities Defendants-Appellants Minnesota House of Representatives Amicus on Behalf of Appellant(s) Eric Steven Janus; American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota Amid on Behalf of Appellee(s)

          Submitted: April 12, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before MURPHY, COLLOTON, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         Class plaintiffs, civilly committed sex offenders, bring a facial and as applied challenge under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming their substantive due process rights have been violated by Minnesota's Civil Commitment and Treatment Act and by the actions and practices of the managers of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). The Minnesota state defendants in this action are managers of MSOP-Emily Johnson Piper, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services; Kevin Moser, MSOP Facilities Director at Moose Lake; Peter Puffer, MSOP Clinical Director; Nancy Johnston, MSOP Executive Director; Jannine Herbert, MSOP Executive Clinical Director; and Ann Zimmerman, MSOP Security Director (collectively "state defendants"). After several months of litigation, including a six-week bench trial, the district court found for plaintiffs and entered an expansive injunctive order. The district court applied incorrect standards of scrutiny when considering plaintiffs' claims, thus we reverse the finding of substantive due process violations and vacate the injunctive relief order. We remand to the district court for further proceedings to address the remaining claims.

         I.

         A. Minnesota Statutory Structure

         In 1994, the Minnesota legislature enacted the Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment Act: Sexually Dangerous Persons and Sexual Psychopathic Personalities (MCTA). MCTA is now codified at Minnesota Statute § 253D. Under the MCTA, a county attorney in Minnesota may petition a state district court to civilly commit a sexually dangerous person[1] or a person with a sexual psychopathic personality[2] to a secure treatment facility. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253D.07(1)-(2). If the county attorney demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that a person is a sexually dangerous person or has a sexual psychopathic personality, "the court shall order commitment for an indeterminate period of time and the committed person shall be transferred, provisionally discharged, or discharged, only as provided in this chapter." Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253D(3)-(4). A person subject to commitment under MCTA is entitled to be represented by counsel, and if the person does not provide counsel for himself, the court appoints a qualified attorney to represent the person. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253D.20.

         Once committed under MCTA, a committed person or the executive director of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program may petition for a reduction in custody, which includes "transfer out of a secure treatment facility, [3] a provisional discharge, [4] or a discharge from commitment.[5]" Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253D.27. The petition is "filed with and considered by a panel of the special review board." Id. These panels consist of "members experienced in the field of mental illness, " including at least one "psychiatrist or a doctoral level psychologist with forensic experience" and one attorney. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253B.18(4c). The special review board must hold a hearing and "issue a report with written findings of fact and shall recommend denial or approval of the petition to the judicial appeal panel.[6]" Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253D.27(3), (4). An appeal of the recommendation of the special review board may be made by the committed person, the county attorney, or the commissioner of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to the judicial appeal panel. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253D.28. At a hearing, the judicial appeal panel receives evidence and makes a de novo consideration of the recommendation of the special review board. Id. Appeals of the decision of the judicial appeal panel may be made to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Id.; Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253B.19(5).

         "A committed person may not petition the special review board any sooner than six months following either" the entry of the initial commitment order by the district court or appeal therefrom or resolution of a prior petition including exhaustion of any appeal rights. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 253D.27(2). The MSOP executive director may, however, petition for reduction in custody at any time. Id.

         B. Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP)

         The State of Minnesota established, under the vested authority of the Commissioner of DHS, the MSOP. Under law, MSOP is to "provide specialized sex offender assessment, diagnosis, care, treatment, supervision, and other services to civilly committed sex offenders . . . [which] may include specialized programs at secure treatment facilities . . ., consultative services, aftercare services, community-based services and programs, transition services, or other services consistent with the mission of the Department of Human Services." Minn. Stat. Ann. § 246B.02. MSOP maintains three main facilities to treat persons committed under MCTA. The largest facility is a secure facility located in Moose Lake, Minnesota, and it houses persons who are in the earliest stages of treatment. The second, secure facility is located in St. Peter, Minnesota, and it houses inmates who have progressed beyond the initial phase of treatment. A third facility known as Community Preparation Services (CPS) is located outside the secure perimeter in St. Peter. CPS is designed for persons in the final stages of treatment who are preparing for reintegration into the community.

         Beginning in 2008, MSOP adopted a three-phase treatment program. Phase I focuses on rule compliance, emotional regulation, and treatment engagement, but individuals do not receive any specific sex offense therapy. In Phase II, MSOP provides therapy that focuses on identifying and addressing patterns of sexually abusive behaviors. MSOP emphasizes discussion and exploration of the committed individual's history of sexually offensive behaviors along with the motivations of those behaviors. When a committed person reaches Phase III, MSOP builds on the skills learned in Phase II and focuses on reintegration into the community. Advancement through the phases is based on a Goal Matrix where the individual's treatment process is scored using various factors. Although the MSOP Treatment Manual states that a committed person could be initially assigned to any phase of the program, no MSOP official could recall a person being assigned to anything but Phase I at the Moose Lake facility.

         The district court found that since its inception in 1994, MSOP has accepted approximately 714 committed individuals, but no committed individual has been fully discharged from MSOP and only three people have been provisionally discharged from the program. The committed individuals represent about 4% of Minnesota's registered sex offenders. Minnesota officials project that the number of civilly committed sex offenders will grow to 1, 215 by 2022. Minnesota has the highest per-capita population of civilly committed sex offenders in the nation.

         C. Claims

         In December 2011, plaintiffs filed a pro se suit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging the conditions of their confinement and certain MSOP policies and practices. The focus of the initial complaint concerned housing conditions, property possession, searches, visitation rights, disciplinary procedures, vendor choices, vocational training, and access to electronic devices. The complaint also claimed that MSOP did not provide constitutionally adequate treatment and thus violated plaintiffs' due process rights. After obtaining counsel in January 2012, plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint raising generally the same claims as in the original complaint and seeking class certification. The district court granted class certification.

         As litigation progressed, including discovery, the district court, in an effort to reach a settlement agreement, ordered the DHS commissioner to create a fifteen-member "Sex Offender Civil Commitment Advisory Task Force" to "examine and provide recommended legislative proposals to the Commissioner on the following topics:

A. The civil commitment and referral process for sex offenders;
B. Sex offender civil commitment options that are less restrictive than placement in a secure treatment facility; and
C. The standards and processes for the reduction in custody for civilly committed sex offenders."

         The court later ordered the creation of a MSOP Program Evaluation Team to evaluate the class plaintiffs' treatment placement and phase progression.

         In August 2013, plaintiffs moved for a declaratory judgment finding the MCTA unconstitutional on its face and as applied to plaintiffs. The plaintiffs argued that the statute is unconstitutional on its face because the statutory discharge standards are more difficult to overcome than the initial statutory commitment standards. For a person to be committed, the state has to show the person is a sexually dangerous person or a person with a sexual psychopathic personality and that the person is highly likely to reoffend. However, discharge under MCTA requires a showing that the person is "no longer dangerous." In comparison to the commitment criteria, the plaintiffs argued the discharge standard is more stringent. The plaintiffs also claimed the statute is unconstitutional as applied because no person committed has ever been fully discharged from MSOP and because there is no automatic, independent, periodic review of an individual's need for continuing ...


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