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Van Orden v. Stringer

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 11, 2019

John R. Van Orden; Michael D. McCord; Joseph Miller; Macon Baker; Chance W. Tyree; Walter W. Ritchey; David Brown; Anthony Amonette; Richard Tyson; Wade A. Turpin; Matthew King; Andre Cokes; Joseph Bowen, Class Representative; William Murphy, Class Representative, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
Mark Stringer; Harold Myers, Reimbursement Officer, HealthLink, Individually and Officially; Alan Blake, Chief Operating Officer, MSOTC, Individually and Officially; Julie Inman; Jay Englehardt; Justin Arnett; Rick Gowdy, in his official capacity as Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Healths Division of Behavioral Health; Robert Reitz; Linda Moll; Daman Longworth; Donna Augustine; Dave Schmitt; Ericka L. Kempker; Kristina Bender-Crice; Angeline Stanislaus, in her official capacity as Chief Clinical Officer of the Missouri Department of Mental Health; Anne Precythe, in her official capacity as Director of the Missouri Department of Corrections; Rikki Wright, in his official capacity as Deputy Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health for the Division of Behavioral Health; David Schmitt, in his official capacity as Chief Operating Officer of Southeast Missouri Mental Health Centers Adult Psychiatric Services; Andy Atkinson, in his official capacity as Chief Operating Officer of Fulton State Hospital; Lee Ann McVay, in her official capacity as Program Coordinator at SORTS-Fulton State Hospital; Susan Knopflein, in her official capacity as Chief Nurse Executive at Fulton State Hospital, Defendants - Appellees.

          Submitted: September 26, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before COLLOTON, BEAM, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         A class of civilly-committed residents of Missouri's civil commitment program for certain sex offenders appeal the dismissal of their claims against state officials. The residents allege that the state officials deprived them of constitutional rights under the rubric of substantive due process. The district court[1] initially found the defendants liable for constitutional violations, but reconsidered in light of Karsjens v. Piper, 845 F.3d 394 (8th Cir. 2017), and entered judgment on behalf of the state officials. The residents appeal, and we affirm.

         I.

         In 1998, the Missouri legislature enacted the Missouri Sexually Violent Predator Act to govern the civil commitment of persons adjudicated to be sexually violent predators. See 1998 Mo. Legis. Serv. 106 (West); Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 632.480-632.525. A person may be committed in the program only if a judge or jury determines by clear and convincing evidence that he is a sexually violent predator. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 632.495.1. A "[s]exually violent predator" is a person who, among other things, has a "mental abnormality which makes the person more likely than not to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility." Id. § 632.480(5).

         After commitment, Missouri law provides avenues to secure conditional release. The director of the department of mental health (or his designee) is required to prepare an annual report on each resident's mental condition and provide it to the state court that committed the person. Id. § 632.498.1. If the director determines that a resident is no longer likely to commit acts of sexual violence, then he "shall authorize the person to petition the court for release." Id. § 632.501. Alternatively, a resident may file his own petition for release without director approval. See id. §§ 632.498.2, .504. If the court at a hearing determines by a preponderance of the evidence that the committed person is no longer likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if released, then the person is entitled to a trial on the issue. See id. § 632.498.4; In re Coffman, 225 S.W.3d 439, 442-44 (Mo. 2007). To justify continued commitment, the State must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the person is still likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if released. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 632.498.5(3). Otherwise, the person is entitled to conditional release. See id. §§ 632.498.5(4), .505.1.

         In 2009, a group of civilly-committed persons brought suit on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated against state officials responsible for operating the program. The fifth amended complaint alleged, inter alia, 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 treatment program, the complaint alleged, is a "sham" that does not provide a "realistic opportunity for release." For purposes of the treatment claims, the district court certified a class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and (b)(2) made up of "persons who are, or will be, during the pendency of this action," residents of Missouri's commitment program for sexually violent predators.

         The district court held a bench trial in April 2015 and entered an order on the question of liability. The court ruled that the Act is not unconstitutional on its face, and dismissed the state-law claims with prejudice, but granted a declaration that the Act is unconstitutional as applied to the class. The court concluded the treatment program suffered from three "constitutional deficienc[ies]."

         First, the court found that "annual reviewers have not been applying the correct legal standard when evaluating whether a resident meets the criteria for conditional release." The result, the court believed, was that residents remained confined "beyond the time constitutionally justified." Second, the court found that state officials were not releasing low-risk residents into less restrictive housing, and had "not even designed procedures to do so," but were instead imposing an indefinite "release without discharge" condition on those residents. Third, the court found that the director of the department of mental health had "abdicated his duty" to authorize petitions for release of low-risk residents, resulting in "the continued confinement of persons who no longer meet the criteria for commitment."

         Before reaching the remedies phase, the district court sua sponte requested briefing on whether it should reconsider its liability order in light of our intervening decision in Karsjens v. Piper, 845 F.3d 394 (8th Cir. 2017). In Karsjens, this court rejected an as-applied substantive due process challenge to Minnesota's civil commitment program for sexually dangerous persons. See id. at 410-11. The district court concluded that the underlying findings in Karsjens were materially indistinguishable from those in its own liability order, so it reconsidered that order and rejected the residents' as-applied constitutional claims. The district court later denied the residents' motion to alter or amend the judgment on their state-law claims to a dismissal without prejudice.

         We review the district court's findings of fact for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. Lisdahl v. Mayo Found., 633 F.3d 712, 717 (8th Cir. 2011). The denial of the motion to alter or amend the judgment is reviewed for ...


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