William Thorpe v. Harold Clarke, No. 21-1714 (4th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
In a putative class action, Plaintiffs allege that as prisoners at two of Virginia’s supermax facilities, they have suffered severe isolation in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs argue that the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) has not used its supermax facilities for any legitimate penological purposes. Instead, Plaintiffs claim, that Virginia and its officers have warehoused prisoners in solitary, without any meaningful path back to the general population, to justify the profligate costs of building and running those institutions.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion. The court explained that Defendants invoked qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss before any of the evidence is in. And on the facts Plaintiffs have pleaded, Defendants cannot succeed. Plaintiffs have adequately alleged that Defendants knew the harms long-term solitary confinement causes and disregarded them. But qualified immunity does not protect knowing violations of the law.
The court explained that its analysis of due process entails a two-part inquiry: (1) whether Plaintiffs had a protectable liberty interest in avoiding security detention; and (2) whether Defendants failed to afford minimally adequate process to protect that liberty interest. Plaintiffs allege Defendants failed to meet even the most basic due process requirements like notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard and that the criteria Defendants employ to assess solitary placements are entirely divorced from legitimate penological interests. On those allegations—and at this litigation stage—Defendants cannot claim immunity.