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Hoffman v. Knoebel

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 3, 2018

Destiny Hoffman, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Susan Knoebel, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued January 4, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division. No. 14-CV-00012 - Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Hamilton and Barrett, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Like many jurisdictions, Indiana has turned to "drug courts" to tackle substance-abuse problems more flexibly than traditional sentencing regimes might allow. Ind. Code § 33-23-16-5. These non-traditional court programs have been shown to reduce recidivism rates, at least in some jurisdictions. Compare Michael W. Finigan, et al., Impact of a Mature Drug Court Over 10 Years of Operation: Recidivism and Costs 23-29 (Nat'l Inst. Just. 2007), (analyzing the successes of the drug court in Portland, Oregon, in reducing recidivism), with Randall T. Brown, Systematic Review of the Impact of Adult Drug Treatment Courts, 155 J. Laboratory & Clinical Med. 263, 263 (2010) (finding that "randomized trials failed to demonstrate a consistent effect on rearrest rates for drug-involved offenders" participating in drug treatment courts). Unfortunately, the Drug Treatment Court ("DTC") in Clark County, Indiana, was not one of the success stories. Under the stewardship of Judge Jerome Jacobi, the court ran roughshod over the rights of its participants, who frequently languished in jail for weeks and even months without justification. The jail stays imposed as "sanctions" for noncompliance with program conditions were arbitrary and issued without due process. DTC staff made arrests despite a clear lack of authority to do so under state law. After these abuses were brought to light, numerous participants in the program filed a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Judicial Center shut down the program.

         Indiana's actions may have ended the DTC, but they did not end the litigation in the district court. That court denied class certification, dismissed some claims, and resolved most of the rest of the claims on summary judgment. A final plaintiff's claim was settled before trial. In the end, the plaintiffs failed to win relief. On appeal, we are left with due process claims by seventeen plaintiffs against three defendants, and Fourth Amendment claims by three plaintiffs against two defendants. The district court resolved all of these claims in the defendants' favor at summary judgment. While we have no doubt that the plaintiffs' constitutional rights were violated, the question is whether these defendants were personally responsible for the systemic breakdown. Plaintiffs have failed to make that showing, and so the district court's judgment dismissing the action must be affirmed.


         The Clark County DTC was founded in 2002. Like all Indiana drug courts, it was given the task of "bringing together substance abuse rehabilitation professionals, local social programs, and intensive judicial monitoring" to provide "individually tailored programs or services" to its participants. Ind. Code § 33-23-16-5. Participants entered the DTC after pleading guilty to a drug-related felony that otherwise would have led to a prison sentence. As part of each plea deal, the state agreed not to enter a conviction against the defendant in exchange for the defendant's compliance with the conditions of the program. Once a participant entered the program, she would be assigned to one of two case managers, who would create an individualized plan. Plans often required a participant to obtain treatment from approved providers, attend regular DTC meetings and hearings, and retain employment. Participants also were subject to unannounced visits and drug screens and were required to obtain approval for any changes in living arrangement or placements with treatment facilities. As participants progressed through the phases of the program, supervision and reporting became less frequent.

         Upon successful completion of the program, a participant's deferred criminal charges were dismissed with prejudice. By contrast, an unsuccessful participant could be "terminated" from the program, meaning, essentially, that she had flunked out. "Terminated" participants had their convictions entered and were sentenced in accordance with their plea agreement. Before turning to this drastic remedy, the DTC could impose a number of intermediate "incentives, sanctions, and therapeutic adjustments" to bring a participant back on track. Ind. Prob. Solv. Ct. R. 27. The available sanctions ranged from assigned reflective essays to more frequent monitoring to short-term jail stays.

         The program appears to have proceeded smoothly until Judge Jacobi became the DTC's presiding judge in January 2012. Under his stewardship, the administration of the program went seriously awry. Two troubling practices arose. First, many short-term jail sanctions began stretching beyond anything that fairly could be called "short-term." To take two of the worst examples, Jason O'Connor was jailed 220 days for what was announced in court as a 30-day sanction, and Destiny Hoffman was jailed 154 days for what was announced as a 48-hour sanction. In all, 16 of the plaintiffs advancing due process violations on appeal were jailed 24 times, for periods ranging from 6 to 220 days. These sanctions were imposed without the procedural protections required by Indiana law, such as written notice, a right to counsel, or a right to present evidence. The plaintiffs argue that these extended periods of incarceration violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, two DTC staff members personally arrested participants who had violated DTC rules, when they should have asked local police to execute the warrants. Three plaintiffs argue that these seizures violated the Fourth Amendment.

         In the district court, the plaintiffs sued nine county employees and entities. Four defendants remain on appeal, three of whom are sued in their individual capacity. Josh Seybold was one of two case managers for the DTC. As case manager, he was responsible for finding placements in treatment centers for jailed participants and often served as participants' first point of contact with the DTC. Susan Knoebel was the chief probation officer in Judge Jacobi's court and the director of the DTC. As director, she oversaw the administrative details of the Clark County DTC, including Seybold's work as a case manager. Jeremy Snelling was the courtroom's bailiff and also served as a "field officer" for the DTC. He tracked down and arrested several of the plaintiffs for violating DTC rules; Knoebel accompanied him. Finally, Danny Rodden, the Clark County Sheriff, was sued in his official capacity. We interpret these claims as claims against the Clark County Sheriff's Department as an entity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985). The department operated the county jail, which the plaintiffs say failed to provide constitutionally sufficient safeguards against unlawful detention.

         The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all four defendants. We assess the district court's decision de novo and review the record just as the district court did-by taking all disputed facts and competing inferences from the evidence in the plaintiffs' favor. Bunch v. United States, 880 F.3d 938, 941 (7th Cir. 2018). The parties have raised many arguments both on the merits and relating to various immunities, but we address only those necessary to resolve this appeal.



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