By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Sex offenders involuntarily
committed to psychiatric institutions following their criminal
sentences can move forward with a 2008 civil rights lawsuit
against New York officials, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals ruled Thursday.
It held that former New York governor George Pataki and
state mental health officials and corrections officers were not
entitled to qualified immunity from the lawsuit.
A reasonable official "would have known that the process by
which the plaintiffs were being committed did not satisfy basic
constitutional requirements," U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Sack
The decision affirmed a 2010 ruling from U.S. District Judge
Jed Rakoff in Manhattan.
A spokeswoman for the New York attorney general's office
declined to comment.
The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by a group of sex offenders
who claimed they had been committed to psychiatric institutions
without notice or a hearing after they had served their criminal
In addition to Pataki, the defendants were officials from
the state Office of Mental Health and the Department of
The commitments stemmed from the Sexually Violent Predator
Initiative launched by Pataki in 2005. It called for sexually
violent predators to be evaluated for involuntary civil
commitment before being released from prison, the ruling said.
The lawsuit alleged that confinement without a hearing or
notice violated plaintiffs' rights to procedural due process.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing there was
no legal prohibition against brief periods of prehearing
confinement, provided that an opportunity for a hearing was
offered in a timely manner. According to the ruling, they also
claimed qualified immunity.
On that basis, in 2010, Rakoff denied the motion on the
procedural due-process claim. He also concluded that the
plaintiffs' civil confinement "did not remotely comport with
The defendants appealed, and the 2nd Circuit on Thursday
affirmed the district court.
"(A) prisoner - even one convicted of an atrocious crime -
maintains a liberty interest in the conditions relating to the
essential nature of his confinement," Sack wrote.
Sack was joined by Judges Joseph McLaughlin and Peter Hall.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Ameer Benno, said he was
gratified by the 2nd Circuit's ruling on qualified immunity.
The case is Bailey v. Pataki, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals, No. 10-2563.
For the plaintiffs: Ameer Benno, Richard Sullivan and
Jeffrey Rothman of Benno & Associates.
For the defendants: Cecilia Chang, Barbara Underwood and
Benjamin Gutman of the New York attorney general's office.
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