University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Aref v. Holder PC-DC-0023
Docket / Court 1:10-cv-00539-RMU ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) National Security
Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Attorney Organization Center for Constitutional Rights
Case Summary
On April 1, 2010, five current and former prisoners in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who were transferred to experimental "Communications Management Units" (CMUs), and two spouses of those prisoners, filed suit under the First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments, as well as the Administrative ... read more >
On April 1, 2010, five current and former prisoners in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who were transferred to experimental "Communications Management Units" (CMUs), and two spouses of those prisoners, filed suit under the First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act against the U.S. Attorney General and the BOP in the District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs were represented by private as well as public interest counsel and asked the court for declaratory relief and injunctive relief either compelling the BOP to return them to the general population of an appropriate BOP facility or enjoining the BOP from operating the CMU in a way that violates the plaintiff's rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that placement in the CMU was discriminatory and imposes atypical and significant curtailments on their ability to communicate with loved ones, and that the BOP was required by the APA to provide opportunity for notice and comment on a dramatic change in policy that contradicts existing regulations.

In 2006 and 2007, the BOP secretly created two experimental prison units designed to isolate certain prisoners from the rest of the BOP and the outside world, called "Communication Management Units." The CMUs, unlike other federal general population units, categorically banned any physical contact with visiting friends and family, and placed severe restrictions on CMU prisoners' access to phone calls and prison programming. More than two thirds of the prisoners confined in the CMUs are Muslim, over-representing the BOP Muslim population by roughly 1,000%.

On March 30, 2011, Judge Urbina denied in part and granted in part the defendants' motion to dismiss, allowing the plaintiffs to proceed on their procedural due process and retaliation claims. 774 F.Supp.2d 147. The case then went into discovery for several years. During discovery, on April 4, 2012, the case was reassigned to Judge Richard Roberts. Then, on November 5, 2012, the case was again reassigned to Judge Barbara Rothstein.

On July 12, 2013, Judge Rothstein dismissed one plaintiff's claims as moot, as the plaintiff had been released from BOP custody, and dismissed the other plaintiffs' claims for mental and emotional injury against one defendant in his individual capacity, as the Prison Litigation Reform Act barred such claims. The remaining claims (procedural due process violation for both plaintiffs, and retaliation for one plaintiff) continued in discovery. 953 F.Supp.2d 133 (D.D.C. 2013).

On April 23, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on their remaining claims, and on May 21, defendants filed their own motion for summary judgment. The next year, on March 16, 2015, Judge Rothstein denied the plaintiffs' motion and granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, dismissing the two remaining plaintiffs' procedural due process claims and one plaintiff's retaliation claim. Judge Rothstein reasoned that the plaintiffs' procedural due process claims failed because they could not establish a "private liberty interest" as required by Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976). A plaintiff, Judge Rothstein explained, can establish a liberty interest by showing that restrictions impose "atypical and significant hardship . . . in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." The baseline for "ordinary incidents of prison life" is administrative segregation (solitary confinement) or "the most restrictive confinement conditions that prison officials . . . routinely impose." Here, Judge Rothstein found that the conditions of administrative segregation at the facilities were generally harsher than those in the CMUs, noting, "except where communication is concerned, CMUs function like a general population unit." Judge Rothstein further granted summary judgment to defendant on one plaintiff's retaliation claim, deferring to the judgment of the prison administrators that the plaintiff's transfer in response to speech had a "valid, rational connection" to a legitimate government interest. Prison officials had described the plaintiff's speech as "inciting and radicalizing the Muslim inmate population," and Judge Rothstein deferred to their judgment, holding that the plaintiff's speech was not protected by the First Amendment. 2015 WL 3749621 (D.D.C., Mar. 16, 2015).

Plaintiffs appealed, and filed their opening appellate brief on October 28, 2015. The matter is pending in the D.C. Circuit.

Xin Chen - 04/10/2011
Kevin Nomura - 04/06/2015
- 10/30/2015


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Male
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Corrections
Discrimination-basis
National origin discrimination
Race discrimination
Religion discrimination
General
Administrative segregation
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Phone
Racial segregation
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Terrorism/Post 9-11 issues
Unconstitutional conditions of confinement
Visiting
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) United States
Plaintiff Description Prisoners and their families challenging policies and conditions at two experimental prison units that are being operated in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois, as well as the circumstances under which they were established.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Center for Constitutional Rights
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
1:10−cv−00539 (D.D.C.) 03/16/2015
PC-DC-0023-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 03/29/2010
PC-DC-0023-0001 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Press Release 03/30/2010
PC-DC-0023-0002 PDF | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Complaint 07/21/2010
PC-DC-0023-0004 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss 09/08/2010
PC-DC-0023-0005 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Supplemental Motion to Dismiss on Mootness Grounds 11/09/2010
PC-DC-0023-0006 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Supplemental Motion to Dismiss 11/23/2010
PC-DC-0023-0007 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion 03/30/2011 (774 F.Supp.2d 147) (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0023-0003 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff McGowan's 2008 Retaliation Claim 02/19/2013 (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0023-0011 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Dismissing Case 05/02/2013 (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0023-0008 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion on Defendants' Consolidated Motion to Dismiss 07/12/2013 (953 F.Supp.2d 133) (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0023-0009 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [granting summary judgment for U.S.] 03/16/2015 (2015 WL 3749621) (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0023-0010 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Robinson, Deborah A. (D.D.C.) [Magistrate]
PC-DC-0023-9000
Rothstein, Barbara Jacobs (W.D. Wash.)
PC-DC-0023-0008 | PC-DC-0023-0009 | PC-DC-0023-0010 | PC-DC-0023-0011 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Urbina, Ricardo M. (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0023-0003
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Agathocleous, Alexis (New York)
PC-DC-0023-0001 | PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Castellani, Annie (New York)
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007
Citron, Eileen Hren (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0023-9000
Desai, Kavita (New York)
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Kadidal, Shayana (New York)
PC-DC-0023-0001 | PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Kreuscher, Kenneth A. (Oregon)
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007
Meeropol, Rachael (New York)
PC-DC-0023-0001 | PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Silbert, Gregory (New York)
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Spektor, Andrey (New York)
PC-DC-0023-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Braswell, Marina Utgoff (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0023-9000
Cartier, Nicholas P. (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0023-0004 | PC-DC-0023-0006 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Johnson, Timothy Andrew (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0023-9000
Swinton, Nathan Michael (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0023-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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