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Case Name DePaola v. Virginia Department of Corrections PC-VA-0022
Docket / Court 7:14-cv-00692-JPJ-RSB. ( W.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Case Summary
On December 19, 2014, three Virginia prisoners placed in administrative segregation at Red Onion State Prison, filed this pro-se lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), various VDOC prison ... read more >
On December 19, 2014, three Virginia prisoners placed in administrative segregation at Red Onion State Prison, filed this pro-se lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), various VDOC prison officials, and the External Review Team, Dual Treatment Team, and Unit Management Team of the Virginia Department of Corrections. The plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Eighth Amendment. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as money damages.

The plaintiffs claimed that the VDOC Operating Procedure 830.A, (a self-described Segregation Reduction Step-Down Program designed to help prisoners progress in stages toward a return to the general prison population), violated plaintiffs’ rights. Specifically, they alleged that they had been assigned to the most restrictive status (IM) without adequate due process. Due to their classification, they had also been denied the opportunity to participate in the step down process. They claimed that the “IM” classified prisoners were treated in a discriminatory manner as compared to other prisoners in administrative segregation, and that these conditions of confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment. They sought to abolish the procedure, be reassigned to a lower classification, and to be granted monetary damages.

On January 14, 2015, the plaintiffs moved to certify a class and to appoint counsel. On March 6, Judge James Jones denied both these motions, finding that the circumstances were not “exceptional” so as to justify appointing counsel. Therefore, because the plaintiffs were still bringing the case pro-se, Judge Jones found it inappropriate to grant class certification.

On April 8, 2015, Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou severed this action into three separate civil suits, one for each plaintiff; the immediate case is for the named plaintiff’s action. Judge Ballou held that the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act required prisoners to file separate filing fees. The purpose of the act was to force “prisoners to think twice” before filing civil litigation.

The court subsequently filed the original complaint under separate dockets for the two other plaintiffs. Both cases were referred to Magistrate Judge Ballou. He dismissed one case case (Velazquez v. Virginia Department of Corrections, 7:15-cv-00157-JPJ-RSB) on September 27, 2016. The plaintiff in the other case (Rivera v. Virginia Department of Corrections, 7:15-cv-00235-JPJ-RSB) moved to voluntarily withdraw his action on May 28, 2015.

On May 18, 2016, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint. In it, he alleged that OP 830.A discriminated against IM inmates, who suffered a much more restrictive environment than inmates in other forms of administrative segregation; that IM status permanently prevented an inmate from working his way out of segregated confinement; that officials arbitrarily assigned him to IM status without allowing him to be present or offer argument, contradictory testimony, witnesses, or evidence; that review between the various privilege level status steps was not meaningful; that spiteful officers could falsely report poor behavior or fail to accurately record participation in programming, thus preventing progress to the next step; and that officers routinely approved their own recommendations during the step-down program reviews, in violation of VDOC policy. The plaintiff also complained that OP 830.A affected inmates’ opportunities for parole and earning good conduct time.

On July 28, 2016 the defendants filed a motion for summary judgement. On September 28, 2016, Judge James P. Jones granted the defendants’ motion . He held that the plaintiff had failed to show that his conditions of confinement were atypical or significantly harsh as compared to conditions expected within a prison environment. Nor, according to Judge Jones, had the plaintiff shown that the procedure violated his due process rights. Moreover, Judge Jones rejected the plaintiff’s equal protection claim because he held that the plaintiff was not similarly situated to the other prisoners in less restrictive confinement. Judge Jones dismissed all claims against the Virginia Department of Corrections as legally frivolous, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). He held that neither the Commonwealth of Virginia nor any governmental entity acting as an arm of the state, such as the VDOC, was a “person” subject to suit under § 1983. 2016 WL 5415903.

On October 6, 2016, the plaintiff appealed the district court’s September 28th ruling to the Fourth Circuit. On March 30, 2017, the Circuit Court assigned counsel for the plaintiff. On October 26, 2017, oral arguments were held before Judges Paul V. Niemeyer, Robert B. King, and Henry F. Floyd. The case is ongoing in the Fourth Circuit.

Victoria Harp - 11/08/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Corrections
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Administrative segregation
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary procedures
Disciplinary segregation
Grievance Procedures
Incident/accident reporting & investigations
Sanitation / living conditions
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Totality of conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) The Dual Treatment Team
The External Review Team
The Unit Management Team
The Virginia Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Virginia prisoner placed in administrative segregation at Red Onion State Prison
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Cruel Confinement: Abuse, Discrimination and Death Within Alabama's Prisons
Date: Jun. 4, 2014
(Southern Poverty Law Center )
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
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
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
7:14-cv-00692-JPJ-RSB (W.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0022-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/30/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-VA-0022-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/19/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 54]
PC-VA-0022-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/28/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order [ECF# 76] (W.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0022-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/27/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judgment [ECF# 77] (W.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0022-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/27/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Full Electronic Appendix: On Appeal From the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia [Ct. of App. ECF# 26]
PC-VA-0022-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opening Brief for Plaintiff-Appellant [Ct. of App. ECF# 27]
PC-VA-0022-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of Amici Curiae Professors and Practitioners of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Medicine in Support of Plaintiff-Appellant [Ct. of App. ECF# 32-1]
PC-VA-0022-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/30/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of Amici Curiae Correctional Experts in Support of Plaintiff-Appellant and Reversal [Ct. of App. ECF# 36-1]
PC-VA-0022-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/30/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Jones, James Parker (FISC, W.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0022-0003 | PC-VA-0022-0004
Plaintiff's Lawyers Black, Andrew L. (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0005 | PC-VA-0022-0006
Collet, Alexaida (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0005 | PC-VA-0022-0006
Hyman, Maxwell J. (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0005 | PC-VA-0022-0006
Levin, Daniel (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0005 | PC-VA-0022-0006
Winer, Luca (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0005 | PC-VA-0022-0006
Defendant's Lawyers Cox, Trevor Stephen (Virginia)
PC-VA-0022-0005
McGuire, Matthew R. (Virginia)
PC-VA-0022-0005
Parsons, John Michael (Virginia)
PC-VA-0022-9000
Vorhis, Richard Carson (Virginia)
PC-VA-0022-9000
Other Lawyers Charles, Nicholas A. (South Carolina)
PC-VA-0022-0008
Coleman, Miles E. (South Carolina)
PC-VA-0022-0008
Collins, Alexis L. (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0007
Hurst, Phillip L. (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0007
Moore, Gypsy M. (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0007
Slater, Matthew D. (District of Columbia)
PC-VA-0022-0007

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