Van Orden v. Stringer, No. 17-3093 (8th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, a class of civilly committed residents, appealed the dismissal of their claims against state officials, alleging that the state's commitment provisions are facially unconstitutional, and that the treatment program as applied to the residents violates their substantive due process rights.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiffs did not assert a typical substantive due process claim but, rather, they contend that defendant officials must change the way that they conduct annual reviews of civilly-committed persons, design procedures for releasing low-risk residents into less restrictive housing, and carry out a statutory duty to authorize petitions for release of low-risk residents. The court held that an entitlement to these actions is not deeply rooted in the Nation's history and tradition or implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. In this case, plaintiffs had procedures available to them that were sufficient to vindicate their liberty interest in gaining release from detention once the reasons that justified the commitment dissipate. The court explained that the fact that the Act provides additional opportunities to facilitate release, and that state officials allegedly have failed to implement them properly, does not run afoul of substantive due process.
In the alternative, the court held that the shortcomings cited by the district court in Missouri mirror those that Karsjens v. Piper, 845 F.3d 394 (8th Cir. 2017), held were not conscience-shocking in Minnesota. Accordingly, the district court correctly reasoned that the as-applied substantive due process claims should be dismissed. Finally, there was no reversible error in the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs abandoned their state law claims.