R.G. v. Koller, 415 F. Supp. 2d 1129 (D. Haw. 2006)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

The United States District Court for the District of Hawaii granted a motion for preliminary injunction against the Hawaii Youth Correction Facility ("HYCF"), requiring HYCF to stop isolating, abusing and failing to protect LGBT youth in their custody. The ruling, based on 14th Amendment due process protections, reaffirms minors' rights to be protected from abuse in state custody, and supports the proposition that isolation is not a constitutionally valid way to "protect" LGBTQ residents in juvenile facilities.

HYCF is a secure juvenile correctional facility operated by the state of Hawaii. Plaintiffs were three teenagers who were confined at HYCF and who either identify or are perceived to be LGBTQ. The plaintiffs alleged suffering verbal abuse by staff and other wards, which the treating physician at HYCF noted was deeply damaging to their psyche. The plaintiffs also suffered threats of and actual physical and sexual assaults from other wards. Plaintiffs reported the abuse but HYCF took no meaningful steps to stop it. HYCF often responded to anti-LGBT harassment by isolating the targets of the abuse.

The court noted that isolation as a form of detainment violates due process rights when it is done with the express intent to punish or without a legitimate purpose. HYCF argued it isolated LGBTQ residents to protect them. But based on expert testimony that long-term isolation of youth is inherently punitive and is outside of accepted professional practices, as well as that courts have generally concluded that the use of isolation for juveniles, except in extreme circumstances, is a per se due process violation, the court ruled that HYCF's isolation of LGBTQ youth was without legitimate purpose.

With respect to the failure to protect, the court noted that plaintiffs have substantive due process rights to personal security and wellbeing. The standard to determine whether a constitutional violation has occurred is "deliberate indifference." The court concluded that HYCF acted with deliberate indifference because it failed to maintain: 1) policies and training necessary to protect LGBTQ youth, 2) adequate staffing and supervision, 3) a functioning grievance system and 4) a classification system to protect vulnerable youth. The court held that the plaintiffs were therefore likely to succeed on their claims. In addition, the court also found that 1) the plaintiffs demonstrated the possibility of irreparable harm if there was no injunction, 2) the hardship on plaintiffs in suffering abuse was greater than the inconvenience to HYCF in having to introduce policies to protect LGBTQ residents and 3) the protection of the residents' constitutional rights was a compelling interest. These factors also supported the granting of the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction.