University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Aref v. Holder PC-DC-0023
Docket / Court 1:10-cv-00539-RMU ( D.D.C. )
Additional Docket(s) 20-5368  [ 20-5368 ]  Federal Court of Appeals
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) National Security
Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Attorney Organization Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Case Summary
On April 1, 2010, five current and former prisoners in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) who were transferred to experimental "Communications Management Units" (CMUs), and two spouses of those prisoners, filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) against the U.S. Attorney ... read more >
On April 1, 2010, five current and former prisoners in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) who were transferred to experimental "Communications Management Units" (CMUs), and two spouses of those prisoners, filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) against the U.S. Attorney General and the BOP in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs were represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights as well as attorneys from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, 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 violated the plaintiffs' rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that placement in the CMU was discriminatory and imposed atypical and significant curtailments on their ability to communicate with loved ones. That, they said, violated the First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments. They also alleged that the BOP had failed to provide an opportunity for notice and comment on a dramatic change in policy that contradicted existing regulations, violating the APA.

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 were Muslim, over-representing the BOP Muslim population by roughly 1,000%.

On March 30, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. 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 J. 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.

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 the 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.

The plaintiffs appealed and filed their opening appellate brief on October 28, 2015 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. On August 19, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court in part and reversed and remanded in part. 833 F.3d 242. The Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the government regarding the retaliation claim, agreeing that the plaintiff could not show his First Amendment rights were violated. The Court also upheld the District Court's earlier summary judgment dismissing the claims of mental and emotional injury. Unlike the District Court, it found the plaintiffs alleged harms qualifying for compensation under the PLRA but upheld the grant of summary judgment because the prison official was entitled to qualified immunity.

On October 12, 2016, the Court of Appeals reversed on the "liberty interest" claim; it found the duration and atypicality of CMU designation sufficient to give rise to a liberty interest. On this claim, the case was remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the appellants were afforded sufficient process.

The parties returned to discovery and litigation. In a joint status report filed on May 10, 2018, the defendants stipulated that given one plaintiff's release from prison and new CMU procedures, supplemental briefing addressing the court's jurisdiction and the merits of the case would be necessary. In the time before the briefing, though, the second plaintiff was released from prison custody in February 2019.

On April 12, 2019, the defendants moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction because the plaintiffs' claims were moot. In early November 2019, the court first granted defendants' motion to dismiss in part and subsequently denied the motion to intervene. In the court's opinion granting the motion to dismiss, the court concluded that even though one plaintiff had since been removed from BOP custody, ongoing consequences from the continued existence of the CMU-related documents continued to affect the plaintiff. As to the second plaintiff, the defendant indicated that the plaintiff had since been deported following release from BOP custody. As a result, the court held that the second plaintiff's claim was moot.

Between June 2019 and January 2020, four other CMU prisoners filed pro se motions to intervene in the case. Judge Rothstein denied these motions in a June 25, 2020 opinion. 2020 WL 7974325.

In an October 13, 2020 opinion, Judge Rothstein granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment against the remaining plaintiff and denied the plaintiff's cross motion. She found that the process by which the plaintiff had been placed in the CMU, as well as the BOP's periodic reviews of his designation, did not violate his due process rights. 2020 WL 7251386.

The plaintiff filed a notice of appeal on December 9, 2020. The appeal remains pending in the D.C. Circuit under docket number 20-5368 as of April 11, 2021.

Xin Chen - 04/10/2011
Kevin Nomura - 04/06/2015
Kelly Ehrenreich - 11/02/2016
Richa Bijlani - 12/01/2019
Jonah Hudson-Erdman - 04/11/2021


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
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 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
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 (CCR)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 04/01/2010
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
D.D.C.
12/09/2020
1:10−cv−00539
PC-DC-0023-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
D.D.C.
03/29/2010
Complaint [ECF# 5]
PC-DC-0023-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
not recorded
03/30/2010
Press Release
PC-DC-0023-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
D.D.C.
07/21/2010
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Complaint [ECF# 19]
PC-DC-0023-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
09/08/2010
Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 23]
PC-DC-0023-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
11/09/2010
Defendants' Supplemental Motion to Dismiss on Mootness Grounds [ECF# 29]
PC-DC-0023-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
11/23/2010
Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Supplemental Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 30]
PC-DC-0023-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
03/30/2011
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 37] (774 F.Supp.2d 147)
PC-DC-0023-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
02/19/2013
Order Denying Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff McGowan's 2008 Retaliation Claim [ECF# 101]
PC-DC-0023-0011.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
05/02/2013
Order Dismissing Case [ECF# 110]
PC-DC-0023-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
07/12/2013
Memorandum Opinion on Defendants' Consolidated Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 115] (953 F.Supp.2d 133)
PC-DC-0023-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
03/16/2015
Memorandum Opinion [granting summary judgment for U.S.] [ECF# 161] (2015 WL 3749621)
PC-DC-0023-0010.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
08/19/2016
United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
PC-DC-0023-0012.pdf | External Link | Detail
D.D.C.
11/01/2019
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 189]
PC-DC-0023-0013.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
06/25/2020
Order Regarding Motions to Intervene and Related Motions [ECF# 211] (2020 WL 7974325)
PC-DC-0023-0014.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
10/13/2020
Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 212] (2020 WL 7251386)
PC-DC-0023-0015.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Brown, Janice Rogers (D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0012
Robinson, Deborah A. (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Rothstein, Barbara Jacobs (W.D. Wash.) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0008 | PC-DC-0023-0009 | PC-DC-0023-0010 | PC-DC-0023-0011 | PC-DC-0023-0013 | PC-DC-0023-0014 | PC-DC-0023-0015 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Urbina, Ricardo M. (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0003
Plaintiff's Lawyers Agathocleous, Alexis (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0001 | PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Castellani, Annie (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007
Citron, Eileen Hren (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Desai, Kavita (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Kadidal, Shayana (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0001 | PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Kreuscher, Kenneth A. (Oregon) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007
Lewis, Robyn (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Meeropol, Rachel (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0001 | PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Silbert, Gregory (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0005 | PC-DC-0023-0007 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Spektor, Andrey (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Veblen, Lara (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Young, Chauniqua Danielle (New York) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Braswell, Marina Utgoff (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Cartier, Nicholas P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-0004 | PC-DC-0023-0006 | PC-DC-0023-9000
Johnson, Timothy Andrew (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000
Swinton, Nathan Michael (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-DC-0023-9000

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -