July 23, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Prisoner’s Claim Dismissed as Moot Where Basis for Claim No Longer Exists

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ind v. Colorado Department of Corrections on Friday, September 11, 2015.

Jacob Ind has been in prison since 1992. In September 1995, he was assigned to administrative segregation at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP), where he was subject to a limitation of two personal books. He filed suit in March 2009, alleging the two-book limitation was a substantial burden on his sincerely held religious beliefs in violation of the constitution and RLUIPA. In June 2011, he was transferred out of administrative segregation and into the general population, where he is allowed 15 personal books. The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) moved to dismiss his suit as moot, and the magistrate judge recommended it be dismissed for mootness, but the district judge concluded Ind would likely be returned to segregation in the future and denied the motion. The court held after a bench trial that the two-book limitation violated Ind’s RLUIPA rights and that if he were returned to segregation CDOC was enjoined from enforcing the policy against Ind. CDOC appealed, arguing the case was moot.

The Tenth Circuit began its review by evaluating the doctrine of mootness, noting the exceptions to the mootness doctrine include if (1) secondary or collateral injuries survive after resolution of the primary injury, (2) the issue is deemed a wrong capable of repetition but evading review, (3) the defendant voluntarily ceases an illegal practice but is free to resume at any time, or (4) it is a properly certified class action. The second and third exceptions were at issue in Ind’s case, and the district court applied the third exception in ruling the limitation violated RLUIPA as applied to Ind.

The Tenth Circuit examined the record and found it void of any evidence that Ind’s return to the general population was a ploy by CDOC to deprive the court of jurisdiction. Instead, the record showed that Ind completed the required phases of administrative segregation and was then returned to the general population. Ind argued that his history of having spent more than half of his imprisonment in administrative segregation demonstrated a reasonable probability that he would return there. The Tenth Circuit declined to assume that he would repeat the misconduct that caused him to enter administrative segregation in the first place, and further noted that he had spent four years in the general population since being released from segregation, three years of which were after the district court issued its order. The Tenth Circuit concluded it was undisputed that Ind’s release from administrative segregation ended the alleged violation of his rights, and the CDOC carried its burden of showing the challenged conduct could not reasonably be expected to resume.

The Tenth Circuit then turned to Ind’s assertion that the harm was capable of repetition but evading review. To avail himself of the exception, Ind must show that the challenged action was too short in duration to be litigated prior to its cessation and there is a reasonable expectation that the complaining party will be subject to the same action again. The Tenth Circuit found Ind’s argument failed at the second prong, because, pursuant to Tenth Circuit precedent, the circuit declined to assume Ind would repeat the misconduct for which he was previously sent to administrative segregation.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case as moot.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind