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Trebian v. Merrimack County House of Corrections

July 31, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul Barbadoro Chief Judge


Jerod Trebian, pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages for alleged violations of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights that occurred during his pretrial detention at the Merrimack County House of Corrections. Trebian claims that, while he was a pretrial detainee, the defendants *fn1 (1) arbitrarily and capriciously determined his classification status; (2) punished him excessively for minor disciplinary violations without giving him an opportunity to appeal; and (3) arbitrarily denied him the right to visit with certain visitors. The defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the following reasons, I grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment. *fn2


Summary judgment is appropriate only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue is one "that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because [it] ... may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A material fact is one that affects the outcome of the suit. See id. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Oliver v. Digital Equip. Corp., 846 F.2d 103, 105 (1st Cir. 1998). The party moving for summary judgment, however, "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] ... which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "produce evidence on which a reasonable finder of fact, under the appropriate proof burden, could base a verdict for it; if that party cannot produce such evidence, the motion must be granted." Ayala-Gerena v. Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., 95 F.3d 86, 94 (1st Cir. 1996) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). I apply this standard in resolving the defendants' motion for summary judgment.


The due process clause prohibits a detainee from being punished for the offense that resulted in his detention until his guilt is determined at trial. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979). As the Supreme Court has recognized, however, "[n]ot every disability imposed during pretrial detention amounts to 'punishment' in the constitutional sense." Id. at 537.

Therefore, a court must distinguish between punitive restrictions and permissible restrictions that are "reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective." Id. at 538. Further, prison officials may punish a pretrial detainee for violations of the prison's disciplinary system without violating the due process clause, so long as the detainee is accorded procedural due process and the punishment imposed "is not excessive in light of the seriousness of the violation." Collazo-Leon v. United States Bureau of Prisons, 51 F.3d 315, 318-19 (1st Cir. 1995). Finally, the Supreme Court has recognized that "[t]here is, of course, a de minimus level of imposition with which the Constitution is not concerned," regardless of whether the imposition is motivated by an intention to punish. Bell, 441 U.S. at 539 n.21 (quoting Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 674 (1977)).

With these standards in mind, I turn to Trebian's claims that defendants violated his right to due process by reclassifying him, punishing him excessively for several minor disciplinary infractions without giving him an opportunity to appeal, and restricting his right to visit with certain visitors. *fn3

A. Classification

Trebian argues that the Classification Board (the "Board") violated his right to due process when it arbitrarily determined his classification status. I disagree.

The Merrimack County House of Corrections (the "MCHOC") classifies newly admitted inmates within three days of their incarceration using an objective classification system. After an inmate is admitted to the MCHOC, either the Assistant Superintendent or the Coordinator of Rehabilitation Services interviews the inmate to obtain information about both his criminal history and his substance abuse history. The Board, which consists of Captain Jeff Croft, the Assistant Superintendent, and the MCHOC's Coordinator of Rehabilitation Services, also performs a criminal background check and attempts to discern whether the inmate has any enemies in the prison. The Board then uses a numeric grading system, which takes into consideration the inmate's pending charges, criminal record, educational background, and employment history, to determine whether the inmate will be classified as Minimum, Medium or Maximum Security. The Board meets weekly to review requests for changes in classification status or cell assignment and reviews each inmate's classification at least monthly and after each "major incident." The superintendent hears all appeals relating to classification matters.

In determining Trebian's initial classification status, the Board took into consideration his criminal record, the criminal charges for which he was being detained, his escape risk, his education, and his employment history. See Supplemental Aff. of Carole A. Anderson, Doc. No. 20, at Exh. D [hereinafter Supp. Aff.]. Based on this information, the Board determined through the numeric grading system that Trebian's classification scale score was 18. *fn4 See id. Because inmates with a classification scale score between 5 and 19 are classified as Minimum Security, the Board classified Trebian as Minimum Security. See Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Doc. No. 13, at Exh. B, Inmate Classification Assignments D-110.

The Board did not act arbitrarily when it later changed Trebian's classification status to Medium Security. On April 15, 1999, after Trebian had pleaded guilty to a major disciplinary charge, he requested that his classification be changed to Medium Security and that he be placed in a different day room. See Supp. Aff., Doc. No. 20, at Exh. E. The Board, therefore, changed Trebian's classification to Medium Security based on his "inability to adapt to [his] current ...

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