MILLER v. DOBIER (February 11, 2011)

Dale Miller is confined pursuant to the Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act. While confined, he was disciplined on two separate occasions in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, he was accused of threatening a deputy sheriff. A disciplinary committee found him guilty of those charges and reduced his status within the institution. As a result, he lost certain privileges; including longer visitation, later access to the day room, and access to electronic equipment. In 2008, he was accused of damaging furniture, breaking a window, and threatening staff. Again, a disciplinary committee upheld the charges in a hearing. Miller was placed in "close" status for a month. His punishment again included lost privileges. He had an earlier curfew, no yard privileges, shorter visits, no access to special events, and no use of the library or exercise room. Miller brought suit against institution officials pursuant to § 1983 claiming a denial of procedural due process. Judge Baker (C.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to the defendants. Miller appeals.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Posner and Wood affirmed. The Court never addressed Miller’s evidence of procedural deficiencies. Instead, it concluded that the due process clause was not even implicated. There is no constitutional due process requirement unless there is a deprivation of liberty or property. When a lawfully committed person is subjected to discipline, the due process clause is not implicated unless the institution substantially worsens the conditions of his confinement. Here, even while Miller was in "close" status, he had much freedom. The reduction in his status does not amount to a deprivation of a liberty interest.