Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al.

At a Glance

Current Status 

CCR has taken an appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court from a March 16, 2015 grant of summary judgment for defendants. 

Date Filed: 

March 29, 2010

Co-Counsel 

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, Portland Law Collective

Client 

Yassin Aref, Kifah Jayyousi, Hedaya Jayyousi, Daniel McGowan, Jenny Synan, Avon Twitty

Case Description 

In 2006 and 2008, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) secretively created two experimental “Communications Management Units” (CMUs) in Terre Haute, Indiana and Marion, Illinois, designed to isolate certain prisoners from the rest of the prison population and the outside world. Prisoners in CMUs are banned from any physical contact with friends and family, and their access to phone calls and work and educational opportunities are extremely limited. CCR filed Aref v. Holder, challenging policies and practices at the CMUs, in the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, on April 1, 2010.The case is part of CCR’s broader efforts to challenge mass incarceration, discrimination, and abusive prison policies.

The plaintiffs in Aref are low-or medium-security prisoners who were designated to the CMU despite their clean or near-spotless disciplinary histories. Not a single one has been disciplined for any communications-related infraction within the last decade, nor for any significant disciplinary offense. Though the creation of the CMUs marked a dramatic change in BOP policy, they were opened without the required public notice and opportunity to comment.

Discovery materials in Aref have revealed that incomplete and inadequate procedures have been used to designate and retain prisoners at the CMUs. These procedures have been marked by missing paper trails and political and religious discrimination, amounting to a truly Kafakesque form of imprisonment. For example, prisoners are not told why they have been transferred to a CMU until after they arrive. Even then, the reasons they are provided are frequently vague, inaccurate, and/or completely false, and they are given erroneous – and even impossible – instructions for earning their way out of a CMU. Policies governing the CMUs are often unclear and interpreted differently by different BOP decision-makers. In addition, 60 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim, though Muslims comprise only 6 percent of the federal prisoner population.

Since the CMUs were created, the designation and review process has denied prisoners due process at every step. CCR’s lawsuit asserts that designation to a CMU involves serious deprivations and restrictions, and these units must be brought into line with constitutional requirements.

Case Timeline

May 14, 2015

CCR files Notice of Appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court

May 14, 2015

CCR files Notice of Appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court

March 16, 2015

Court rules against prisoners, grants summary judgment

March 16, 2015

Court rules against prisoners, grants summary judgment

The court denies our procedural due process and retaliation claims, holding that CMUs do not impose an atypical and significant hardship on prisoners. The district court judge held that prisoners have no liberty interest in avoiding placement in CMUs, and thus did not consider our extensive record documenting arbitrary and discriminatory CMU placements and the lack of any meaningful review.

June 18, 2014

CCR opposes government's Motion for Summary Judgment

May 21, 2014

Government files Motion for Summary Judgment and opposition to CCR's Motion for Summary Judgment

February 12, 2013

Government files second Motion to Dismiss

February 12, 2013

Government files second Motion to Dismiss

The government moves to dismiss the new claims, a motion that CCR opposes. While the court ultimately rules that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) bars claims by prisoners for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody and therefore dismisses two of the new claims, it allows one new retaliation claim to proceed.
September 5, 2012
CCR files First Amended Complaint
September 5, 2012
CCR files First Amended Complaint
Having gathered evidence in discovery substantiating the claims that plaintiffs were sent to and retained at the CMUs in retaliation for their speech, CCR files an Amended Complaint, bringing new First Amendment retaliation claims.
November 13, 2011
Members of Congress send letter of inquiry to Bureau of Prisons about CMUs
November 13, 2011
Members of Congress send letter of inquiry to Bureau of Prisons about CMUs
September 9, 2011
Government files Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff Daniel McGowan's retaliation claim
September 9, 2011
Government files Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff Daniel McGowan's retaliation claim
The government files a summary judgment motion, claiming that Plaintiff Daniel McGowan has not sufficiently exhausted his administrative remedies before filing his First Amendment retaliation claim and arguing that the claim should therefore be resolved against him. CCR opposes the motion, and the court agrees the claim should move ahead.
March 3, 2011
NPR releases interactive timeline of history of CMUs
March 3, 2011
NPR releases interactive timeline of history of CMUs
NPR's CMU timeline
July 21, 2010

Government files Motion to Dismiss

July 21, 2010

Government files Motion to Dismiss

Defendants, who include the attorney general and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), move to dismiss the claims, a motion that CCR opposes. While the court dismisses some of the claims, it refuses to dismiss the due process and First Amendment retaliation claims, sending the case into discovery.

Spring 2010
BOP opens up period for public comment on CMUs
Spring 2010
BOP opens up period for public comment on CMUs

Shortly after our lawsuit is filed, and four years after opening of the first CMU, the BOP opens a period for public comment on the CMUs. They are flooded with comments by the public.

March 29, 2010
CCR files federal lawsuit challenging policies and conditions at CMUs
March 29, 2010
CCR files federal lawsuit challenging policies and conditions at CMUs

Five CMU prisoners, joined by two family members and represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights , file a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging practices, policies, and conditions at the Communications Management Units (CMUs), alleging an array of constitutional violations at the units, including a denial of due process and First Amendment violations.