Guards Whose SSNs Disclosed To Inmates Lose Lawsuit

During the summer of 2002, Bruce Sibert, an investigator for the Michigan Department of Corrections Internal Affairs Section, investigated allegations by two prisoners that they were sexually assaulted by employees at the Ionia Maximum Security Correctional Facility. As part of this investigation, Sibert interviewed numerous staff members, the prisoners who alleged the assault, and a confidential inmate informant. Sibert included the statements of the staff, the prisoners, and informant in his investigative report summarizing his investigation. Sibert’s general practice for identifying individuals in his report was to use their name, date of birth, and social security number.

Sibert’s investigation concluded that the prisoners’ allegations were unfounded. The Facility’s administration then filed prisoner misconduct charges against these prisoners. When a hearings officer upheld the charges, the prisoners appealed.

As part of their appeal, the prisoners requested a copy of the hearing packet reviewed by the hearings officer. The Facility provided the complete hearing record to the prisoners, including Sibert’s internal affairs investigatory report.

As a result of the disclosure of their social security numbers, which were contained inside the report, a group of guards received numerous threats from prisoners, specifically referencing their social security numbers. Prisoners have been able to obtain other information regarding the guards’ family members, and photographs of the homes of at least two guards were intercepted in the prison mail system.

The guards brought a lawsuit against the State, alleging that the disclosure of their social security numbers violated their substantive due process rights. A federal trial court, while describing the incident as involving an “ultimately unfortunate set of circumstances,” dismissed the lawsuit.

The Court found that to state a claim for violation of their due process rights, the guards would have to show that the disclosure of the information was deliberate. As the Court put it, “that is not the case here. There is no evidence that the Facility affirmatively disclosed the guards’ information to the prisoners. Specifically, the hearings officer failed to notice that the investigative report contained the personal information and indeed was unaware that such information was even included in the hearing packet. With respect to Sibert, while he arguably took an affirmative step by placing the personal information in his investigative report, there is no evidence that he knew that his actions specifically endangered the guards. The record simply does not reveal any intentional affirmative action by the Facility that violated the guards’ due process rights.”

Barber v. Overton, 2005 WL 1460290 (W.D.Mich. 2005).

This article appears in the October 2005 issue